It also had an unusual genetic mutation, a deletion in what is known as the N gene, which codes for an important structural protein. This deletion has not been documented in other canine coronaviruses, said Dr. Vlasova, but similar mutations have appeared in the viruses that cause Covid and SARS. “So what does that mean?” Asks Dr. Gray. “Well, you know, we don’t really know.”
Although much more research is needed, one possibility is that the mutation may help animal coronaviruses adapt to human hosts, the researchers said.
It is too early to say whether this virus poses a risk to humans. Researchers have yet to prove that this virus is the cause of the pneumonia that has brought patients to the hospital. And they haven’t yet studied whether people who can get the virus from animals can pass it on to other people.
“We have to be careful because things keep popping up that don’t turn into outbreaks,” said John Lednicky, a University of Florida virologist who was not an author of the study.
Even so, the study was “extremely important,” he said. “The fact that it is a coronavirus again shows us that this is a group of viruses that deserves further investigation.” He added, “We should take this seriously and look for it because if we see more cases the alarm bells should ring.”
Indeed, one possibility is that coronaviruses are spreading between humans and other species, including dogs, far more frequently than before.
“At the moment we have no reason to believe that this virus will cause a pandemic,” said Dr. Vlasova. “What kind of attention we want to bring to this research is that coronavirus transmission from animal sources to humans is likely to be a very, very, very common occurrence. And so far it has been largely ignored. “