Most of researchers' attention over the past year has, understandably, focused on COVID, and on SARS-CoV-2, the particular coronavirus that causes it. But when the pandemic initially took hold, one doctor started wondering about what other coronaviruses were out there—and now scientists say that, for the first time, they've found one that can apparently jump from dogs to humans. In a study published Thursday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, researchers note that out of 301 patients hospitalized with pneumonia in 2017 and 2018 in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, nasal swabs pulled from the upper respiratory tracts of eight of them (more than 2.5% of the study's subjects) turned up canine CoV (CCoV) RNA, or a dog virus. Study co-author Gregory Gray calls that finding "remarkable." "That's a pretty high prevalence of a [new] virus," he tells NPR.
The researchers note the study's patients were mostly children who lived in rural areas and had frequent exposure to domesticated animals and wildlife from the jungle, per Science. Virologist Anastasia Vlasova, another co-author, decoded the virus's genome and made a further alarming find: a unique mutation that hasn't been seen in other dog coronaviruses, but which has been found in human coronaviruses. That, Vlasova says, is what may be allowing this virus to make the jump from dogs to humans. There's not yet any evidence that once a human has the virus, it can be passed on to another human. Researchers say that if the virus is confirmed as a pathogen, it could qualify as the eighth distinct coronavirus to cause illness in humans. "Our findings underscore the public health threat of animal CoVs and a need to conduct better surveillance for them," they write. (Read more coronavirus stories.)