A new report indicates that the deadly Chinese coronavirus may not actually have originated at a wet market in Wuhan

Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesPassengers arriving on a train from Wuhan, China, are screened for coronavirus in Beijing.
  • New research argues that the deadly Wuhan coronavirus may not have originated at a wet market in the city as previously thought.
  • A report published in the medical journal The Lancet found that of 41 cases of the virus in Wuhan, China, only 13 were linked to the market, Science magazine reported.
  • The researchers also found that the first hospitalized case was not linked to the market.
  • It was widely believed that people in Wuhan caught the virus from animals in a wet market, where meat is sold alongside live animals, often in poorly regulated conditions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

New research suggests that the Wuhan coronavirus, which has killed at least 81 people and infected more than 2,700 others, may not have originated in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, China.

The virus is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals to humans. So experts thought people in Wuhan likely caught the virus from snakes in a wet market, where meat is sold alongside live animals, often in poorly regulated conditions.

Wet market china dogDavid Wong/South China Morning Post/GettyDog-meat stalls in the Dongkou market, China’s biggest wet market, in June 2014.

However, a new report from a group of Chinese scientists published in the medical journal The Lancet on Friday challenges that idea, suggesting that the virus could have originated elsewhere before entering the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market.

Looking in detail at the cases of the first 41 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, the scientists found that 13 cases had no link to the marketplace, including the first case of the virus on December 1, Science magazine reported.

“That’s a big number, 13, with no link,” Daniel Lucey, an infectious-diseases specialist at Georgetown University, told Science.

China wuhan masks virusMiguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesHealthcare officials helping to treat people in Hong Kong.

Lucey told the magazine it was possible that the first cases occurred in November and that the virus could have spread undetected among people before it was found in the first group of cases from the wet market.

One way to establish for certain whether the virus outbreak originated at the market would be to take samples from the animals in the market as well as local animal populations, but the market has been cleared and disinfected, a group of microbiology professors wrote in The Conversation.

Health officials in Wuhan closed the market on January 1 and have banned the sale of live animals at wet markets.

The virus has spread to at least 12 other countries, including the US, Australia, Japan, and Thailand.

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