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Expert: panic over coronavirus in China for Russia is premature

Elena Fritz

The new 2019-nCoV coronavirus detected in China has caused a wave of information hype around the world. In China, it has infected about 3,000 people and fatal outcomes are recorded. Experts believe that bats are a natural reservoir of the pathogen. Maria Orlova, a staff member of the Laboratory of Biodiversity Monitoring at the TSU Biological Institute, is one of the few Russian scientists who is involved in the study of bat-transmitted infections. She explained why the emergence of new viruses is natural and why Russians should not panic because of what is happening in China.

- For the parasitologist, the virus is, in many ways, a parasite that is subject to the patterns described for helminths and protozoa,- explains Maria Orlova. - In particular, this is a direct dependence of the number and diversity of parasites on the number and density of their hosts. Considering how many people live in Asia (4.5 billion people) and specifically in China (almost 1.5 billion), it becomes obvious that this region, especially its tropical part, is doomed to be an enduring focus of a wide variety of infections.

The natural reservoir of the new pathogen is already known—these are bats. Two other viruses that caused epidemics were also associated with them: SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, 2002-2003) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, 2012-2015). This is also quite natural: bats, owing to the peculiarities of biology, possess a very large number of viruses, including those belonging to the Coronaviridae family (which includes 2019-nCoV).
- The number of bats in the tropics is extremely high,- notes Maria Orlova. Also, there they are not environmentally separated from other animals and humans: suffice it to say that the population of many countries in Southeast Asia eats them. That is why the emergence in China of the new 2019-nCoV virus and its transmission to humans from a biological point of view are quite logical and predictable events.

As for the possibilities for the epidemic to penetrate Russia, the panic escalated by some media is premature—it's enough to recall that the two previous epidemics (already mentioned above, SARS and MERS) have safely bypassed Russia. The Russian Federation has a developed system of biological protection, and thanks to it, the accidental import of exotic pathogens by Russians from places of recreation and business trips (by no means a rare event!) has never had catastrophic consequences. We can predict that it will not have them now.

The fear of bats is also completely unfounded: Russian species of bats are not able to contact tropical ones. They can spread some infections—just like any wild animal, so it's impossible to take a mouse accidentally flying into the room with your bare hands! However, bats in Russian cities can not participate in the circulation of a new virus and cause a pneumonia epidemic in Russia.

Provided by Tomsk State University