Researchers have found a new canine coronavirus that appears to have jumped from a dog to a child.
A new study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, examines a child who was hospitalized with pneumonia in Malaysia back in 2018.
If confirmed, according to The New York Times, it would be the eighth known coronavirus to infect humans and the first to do so from dogs — as well as yet another example of the danger of new pathogens that jump from animals to humans.
Plenty of questions remain, however. We don't know how much of a threat, if any, the canine coronavirus poses to humans. We also don't know if it can be transmitted from human to human, like COVID-19.
Still, the discovery highlights the need for further research into any virus capable from jumping from animals to humans. In fact, scientists believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID may have originated in bats.
"I think the key message here is that these things are probably happening all over the world, where people come in contact with animals, especially intense contact, and we’re not picking them up," Gregory Gray, infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University and co-author of the study, told the NYT.
"We should be looking for these things," he added. "If we can catch them early and find out that these viruses are successful in the human host, then we can mitigate them before they become a pandemic virus."
While we've long known that coronaviruses can make dogs sick, we've only now found evidence that the viruses can jump to humans.
The researchers also caution that while they're almost certain the virus jumped from a dog to a human, they're not completely convinced. In particular, they told the NYT, it's possible that it made its way through an intermediary third species.
They also emphasized that it's unlikely the new coronavirus poses any serious danger to humans, even though they do see it as a call to action.
"At this moment we do not really have any reason to believe that this virus is going to be causing a pandemic," Anastasia Vlasova, co-author and virologist at Ohio State University, told the NYT.
"What kind of attention we want to draw to this research is that transmission of coronaviruses from animal sources to humans is probably a very, very, very common event," she added. "And up until now it was mostly ignored."