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“Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19”| Reviewed by Pat Sainz

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Alina Chan, a scientist from the United States, and Matt Ridley, a science writer living in the United Kingdom, have collaborated on an exhaustive yet readable book exploring the origin of SARS-CoV-19, known as COVID-19.

The authors present critical interpretations of scientific papers. They analyze statements made by politicians and reporters. They offer scientific pros and cons of theories related to the origins of COVID.

Chan and Ridley reveal that in 2012, six miners clearing bat guano in a mine near Wuhan, rife with horseshoe bats, developed COVID-like symptoms. (Bat guano is used for medicinal purposes and as an organic fertilizer). Four of the miners died of respiratory failure; the two youngest survived.

According to a 2013 research study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), horseshoe bats carry genetically related SARS-CoV-2 viruses. This research was withheld by the WIV until it was accidentally discovered and shared in 2019 on Twitter.

Bats with COVID-19 may have infected animals sold at outdoor markets including snakes, domestic cats, civets and pangolins. Traditional Chinese medicine uses parts of some of these animals, such as snake bile and pangolin scales. Domestic cats are considered a delicacy, and civit parts are used in soup. It would be easy to spread the virus to humans if bats had infected the aforementioned animals. These animals are often smuggled in from obscure places because of their high demand.

No animals from the infamous Hunan seafood markets tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. However, the market underwent a thorough sanitation and shutdown following the Wuhan Health Department’s emergency notice to hospitals following an outbreak of contagious pneumonia-like symptoms among Wuhan residents in late December 2019.

One of the COVID origin theories includes a phenomenon called “natural spillover.” Virologists exploring the mines filled with thousands of bats may have become infected and spread the virus once they reached densely populated areas. Bat hunters and animal traders could have carried the virus. Food handlers may have picked up the virus from infected bats. The “spillover” to densely populated areas was likely inevitable.

On Jan. 15, 2020, the United States State Department suggested a link between the virus and laboratory leaks at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Esteemed scientists encouraged a study into the spread of the virus both from natural causes and from lab origin in May, 2020.

Lab leaks had been dismissed as a COVID spreader, at first. Wuhan locked down on Jan. 23, but the World Health Organization did not declare a pandemic until mid-March. The delay was due in part to the obstructionist behavior of Chinese authorities and the cover up of lab studies involving COVID-19. Some scientists have suggested that the virus began from improper protective procedures in labs that research viruses.

It has not been determined exactly what caused the COVID-19 virus two years after the first case was reported in Wuhan on Nov. 16, 2019. In August 2021, a report released by the Biden administration showed the origin of COVID-19 is inconclusive.

Chan and Riley are less concerned about the origins of COVID-19 and more alarmed that the practices that likely helped spread the virus are not being addressed. They call for shutting down wildlife trade, for more safety guidelines in labs studying pathogens, and for transparency and sharing of scientific research. The authors fear that failure to control what is now known about how the virus is spread will likely lead to another pandemic.

“Viral” offers much more information than the public has received in other forms of media. I highly recommend this book for those seeking objective information about a disaster that has altered the way we have lived for two years.

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