Engineering (2020-10-01)

Natural Host–Environmental Media–Human: A New Potential Pathway of COVID-19 Outbreak

  • Miao Li,
  • Yunfeng Yang,
  • Yun Lu,
  • Dayi Zhang,
  • Yi Liu,
  • Xiaofeng Cui,
  • Lei Yang,
  • Ruiping Liu,
  • Jianguo Liu,
  • Guanghe Li,
  • Jiuhui Qu

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 10
pp. 1085 – 1098


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Identifying the first infected case (patient zero) is key in tracing the origin of a virus; however, doing so is extremely challenging. Patient zero for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is likely to be permanently unknown. Here, we propose a new viral transmission route by focusing on the environmental media containing viruses of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or RaTG3-related bat-borne coronavirus (Bat-CoV), which we term the “environmental quasi-host.” We reason that the environmental quasi-host is likely to be a key node in helping recognize the origin of SARS-CoV-2; thus, SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted along the route of natural host–environmental media–human. Reflecting upon viral outbreaks in the history of humanity, we realize that many epidemic events are caused by direct contact between humans and environmental media containing infectious viruses. Indeed, contacts between humans and environmental quasi-hosts are greatly increasing as the space of human activity incrementally overlaps with animals’ living spaces, due to the rapid development and population growth of human society. Moreover, viruses can survive for a long time in environmental media. Therefore, we propose a new potential mechanism to trace the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.