Dr. Angela Rasmussen (PhD) brings her expertise in virology to the prairie province as a research scientist.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen (PhD) brings her expertise in virology to the prairie province as a research scientist. (Photo: David Stobbe)

Huanan market identified as epicentre of COVID-19 pandemic

A study published in Science, one of the world’s most prestigious journals, provides evidence that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientist Dr. Angela Rasmussen (PhD), from the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), was part of the international team that published the study and is the only author from a Canadian institution.

The study, led by Dr. Michael Worobey (PhD), a Canadian virus evolution scientist at the University of Arizona, traced the start of the pandemic to the market in China, where wildlife susceptible to the virus were sold immediately before the pandemic began.

The scientists developed a detailed map of the market and showed a clear association of SARS-CoV-2-positive samples (reported by Chinese researchers in early 2020) and the western portion of the market, where live or freshly butchered animals were sold in late 2019.

The study, which had been released in pre-print in February, has since gone through peer review and now includes additional analyses and conclusions, virtually eliminating alternative scenarios that have been suggested as origins of the pandemic.

“The data overwhelmingly shows that the pandemic began at Huanan from zoonotic spillovers from animals sold at the market,” said Rasmussen. “There is no other explanation that fits the evidence. Not only does this clarify the circumstances of the pandemic’s origin, it also demonstrates the significant risk that novel viruses pose to both the human and animal population.”

Most new infectious diseases that infect humans have direct links to animals. These are termed zoonotic and support that human and animal health are linked (“One Health”). 

In related research, Rasmussen is assessing susceptibility of multiple species that were sold at Huanan market, and is separately evaluating SARS-CoV-2 “spillback” or infection in wild, captive, and domesticated animals (e.g., deer and cats) in North America. This “spillback” could result in the establishment of new animal reservoirs, or populations that support transmission, and increases the risk of new variants spilling over into humans. This project is supported by the CIHR funded Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network.

These studies are part of VIDO’s significant contribution to the international SARS-CoV-2 research effort.

Read the full release from the University of Arizona: https://news.arizona.edu/story/studies-link-covid-19-wildlife-sales-chinese-market-find-alternative-scenarios-extremely

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