From David Stanway
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauchi has called on China to publish information on six workers who fell ill after working in a mine in Yunnan province in 2012 and are now seen as a key part of efforts to find the origin of COVID-19.
Workers between the ages of 30 and 63 rubbed a copper stitch clean of bat feces in April 2012. Weeks later, they were admitted to a hospital in the Kunming province with a persistent cough, fever, headache and chest pain, and difficulty breathing. Eventually, three died.
The mine is located in Mojiang in southwestern China, about 1
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE SIX WORKERS?
Although full biographical details of the six workers have not been published, their surnames, ages and medical records have been published in a 2013 dissertation written by a graduate student at Kunming Medical University named Li Xu.
Li’s study, still available in the Chinese archive of scientific articles on cnki.net, examined each patient’s symptoms and concluded that they were victims of a “SARS-like” coronavirus made by horseshoe bats.
Scientists who returned to the mine in late 2012 found samples of a pathogen known as the “Mojang virus”, found in rats and unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. Subsequent studies have failed to confirm whether they are causing the miners’ illness.
According to the Wuhan Shi Zhengli Institute of Virology, a researcher on the best coronavirus bats in China, workers’ pneumonia-like symptoms are caused by a fungal infection. Shea and her team also said in a study published last November that they had retested 13 serum samples from four of the patients and found no signs of being infected with SARS-CoV-2.
WHY ARE THE CASES IN THE PUBLIC EYES?
Since the middle of last year, Lee’s dissertation has been circulating online as alleged evidence that a coronavirus very similar to SARS-CoV-2 could have infected humans as early as 2012.
Some also believe that the paper provides circumstantial evidence for broader claims that WIV captured, studied, and conducted “function-gaining” experiments on viruses found in the mine, including RaTG13.
First identified in 2016, RaTG13 shares 96.2% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2, according to an article published by Shi and other researchers in early February 2020, just weeks after the first cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan.
WHAT OTHER VIRUSES ARE FOUND IN THE MINE?
From 2012 to 2015, WIV researchers identified up to 293 coronaviruses in and around the mine.
In November 2020, the institute revealed the existence of eight other SARS-type coronavirus samples taken from the site.
In a prepress last month, Shi and other researchers said none of the eight were closer to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13. Crucially, none of them possess the key receptor binding domain that allows SARS-CoV-2 to infect humans so effectively.
The report concludes that “experimental evidence cannot support” claims that SARS-CoV-2 has leaked from the laboratory, and calls for “more systematic and longitudinal sampling of bats, pangolins or other possible intermediates” in order to it is better understood where the pandemic originated.
(Report by David Stanway. Edited by Gary Doyle)