Conspiracy theorists only need suspicion, some carefully selected facts, and vibrant imagination to make up a story about the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for scientists working to determine the facts, the road to the truth is much harder.
Their search will take them to browse a large number of medical records, and the daily details of these records will become an important guide for understanding the time and environment when the coronavirus was born as a human pathogen. It is also important for patients to recall their whereabouts and contact information.
But even if the Chinese government is willing to open all of its patient files to international investigators-which is currently not the case-symptom reports and patient memories can be wrong and confusing. Researchers need to check each fact one by one when digging into the story.
Evolutionary Biologist, University of Arizona Michael worobby A down payment was provided for such investigations in this week’s “Science” magazine. Based on medical journal articles, the work of World Health Organization investigators, media reports and online accounts, Worobey’s reconstruction Many questions remain unanswered. But it provides a roadmap for further investigation.
Worobey played an important role. He is one of 18 scientists who opposed the WHO report on the origin of the coronavirus and reignited an investigation into the possibility that it might leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Their letter Published after “Science” WHO declares “very likely” The virus is transmitted from animals to humans, and it is “very unlikely” to escape from government laboratories. Noting that these two theories “have not been considered in balance”, the group called for “appropriate investigations” to resolve this issue.
Vorobi Said at the time The interpretation of “both” “still exists for me”. But his new works are largely inclined to the interpretation of “animal overflow”.
Worobey’s efforts have received mixed reviews.
“I don’t think this greatly promotes our collective understanding of what really happened,” said Dr. David Lehrman, The Stanford microbiologist who organized scientific letters. Relman said that because Worobey’s new narrative is mainly composed of “three-handed and four-handed information,” it is fragmented, inconsistent, and potentially unreliable.
But the microbiologist at the Scripps Institute Christian AndersenPeople who have long believed that animal spills are more likely than laboratory spills praised Worobey’s research for “discovering several new key insights.”
Andersen said that the collective evidence “clearly shows that the South China market is likely to be the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Worobey’s description questioned the date and location of the first reported case of this mysterious pneumonia, which was later confirmed as COVID-19. His research shows that, as widely reported, this is not a 41-year-old accountant who has nothing to do with the South China market, but a seafood supplier working there. (A Chinese investigative reporter will find that the accountant’s fever on December 8 was caused by an infection after a dental surgery to remove the residual deciduous teeth. The accountant had a fever again eight days later, which is a sign of COVID-19.)
Exactly 11 days before the Chinese authorities focused their attention on the common link of mysterious infections in the South China market, doctors at two hospitals in Wuhan had identified 14 cases of pneumonia of unknown origin. Eight of the patients had been in the market for some time, where live raccoon dogs, a species known to carry SARS-like coronaviruses, were sold.
For casual followers of the origin debate, the importance of these small details is not obvious. But they are very important.
Those who believe that China has covered up accidental laboratory leaks or deliberately released engineered pathogens have captured this finding in the WHO report: Only 33% of the 168 patients with unexplained pneumonia at the beginning of the outbreak were directly related to the virus. connect. South China market. They added that even this number may have been inflated by doctors looking for market links after the Chinese authorities designated the site as a possible source.
They also had a lot of discussion about the now controversial report that the earliest known patient (a 41-year-old accountant) lived nearly 20 miles south of the South China Market and had never been there, but he showed up in a nearby hospital Sickness. Go to Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Dr. Mark SuchardA researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles used genetic sequences to study the spread of the disease. He said that Worobey’s reconstruction clearly showed that “most of the early cases occurred near the market and identified them as early epicenters.” Suchard said he Hope to cooperate with Worobey in the next phase of research.
China insists that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was caused by the spill. Authorities there stated that they responded quickly to reports of unexplained diseases in Wuhan, quickly traced them back to the South China market, and activated a national early warning system.
They ruled out the possibility of the virus escaping from the Wuhan virology laboratory. But they have been reluctant to share their records with WHO investigators. And because the government has covered up its mistakes in past disasters, doubts about its claims have become widespread.
Worobey does not acknowledge the political debate about the origin of the virus. But he made it clear that his reconstruction of the incident strongly pointed to overflow interpretation.
For example, according to his statistics, 10 (53%) of the first 19 cases identified are related to the market. He said that doctors under the leadership of the government cannot overstate this figure because they have been confirmed before any announcement by the authorities.
“Early COVID-19 cases related to the South China market do dominate,” Worobey wrote.
He also wrote that, given the current knowledge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is not surprising that many early patients have no contact with the South China market. The virus is easily spread by people who have no or almost no symptoms. It takes nearly two weeks for the infection to progress to a serious illness, and no more than 7% of the infected are eventually hospitalized.
This means that when people start to land in hospitals in Wuhan, the virus may have been spreading there for several weeks-at least 93% of the infected people have gone out and can spread in a city with a population of 11 million.
Most of the patients who have no direct contact with the market live nearby. Worobey writes that this “is worth noting and provides convincing evidence that community communication begins in the market.”
These facts also indicate that the “patient zero” of the pandemic may never be discovered.
At some point in late November or early December, that person might have lunch with the infected raccoons in a cage in the South China Market. He or she may be one of nearly 50% of people who do not feel very heavy, but can still effectively spread SARS-CoV-2.
Animals that hatch viruses are even less likely to be found.Chinese researchers Tell WHO investigators collected samples from 188 animals of 18 species on the market, and the results were all negative. Since the market was closed and disinfected on January 1, 2020, it is no longer possible to look forward.
Therefore, researchers will have to continue to collect epidemiological data and sort out convincing details to understand the birth of the virus as fully as possible.
Gene sequencing data Worobey said it can also help. As the virus spreads from person to person, Its genetic characteristics have changed Enough to reveal the order in which the infection occurred. When epidemiologists and geneticists pool their data, they are better able to create infection genealogy.
When they cross-check genetic characteristics with the patient’s description of their contacts and whereabouts, they may be able to time-stamp some infections and identify the spatial pattern of the virus’s earliest spread. This should bring them closer to the root of the family tree-perhaps not patient zero, but closer.
Worobey wrote: “Nevertheless, it is still possible to obtain conclusive evidence from the South China market of infected wild animals.” “Preventing future epidemics depends on this effort.”