What might happen if viruses jump from pet dogs to humans? That worrisome future is already here

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Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images
Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

[S]cientists are reporting that they have discovered what may be the latest coronavirus to jump from animals into people. And it comes from a surprising source: dogs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first exploded, Dr. Gregory Gray started to wonder whether there might be other coronaviruses out there already making people sick and threatening to trigger another outbreak.

In the first batch of samples tested last year, Gray and [graduate student Leshan] Xiu found evidence of an entirely new coronavirus associated with pneumonia in hospitalized patients [at a Malaysian hospital] — mostly in kids. This virus may be the eighth coronavirus known to cause disease in people, the team reports.

“We did discover a very, very unique mutation — or deletion — in the genome,” [virologist Anastasia] Vlasova says. That specific deletion, she says, isn’t present in any other known dog coronaviruses, but it is found somewhere else: in human coronaviruses… This deletion, she believes, helps the dog virus infect or persist inside humans.

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Vlasova and her colleagues are catching this new coronavirus early on in its journey in people, while it’s still trying to figure out how to infect people efficiently — and possibly, before it can spread from person to person and trigger a big outbreak.

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