Bats in general aren't entirely blameless, though...

By Korin Miller
Updated February 03, 2020

When news of any new, fast-spreading virus starts making the rounds, two things happen: public panic ensues and misinformation starts to proliferate—and the new Wuhan coronavirus has sparked both recently.

In December 2019, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus—currently being called 2019-nCoV—was detected in Wuhan, a city in Central China's Hubei province. Currently, at least 362 people have died and more than 17,300 people are infected with the virus—and it has been detected in at least 23 countries worldwide, according to the latest information from The New York Times. The US currently has six confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, including one case via human-to-human transmission.

While health officials across the world—and, honestly, the entire world in general—try to figure out what exactly the new Wuhan coronavirus is (Where did it start? How is it transmitted? What's making it so infectious?), one thing in particular is certainly not helping anyone: Claims that it somehow originated with one woman eating something people are referring to as "bat soup." (Seriously—the searches for "bat soup" in Google Trends have truly skyrocketed recently).

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Where exactly did the "bat soup" claim come from?

According to Foreign Policy, a video recently surfaced of a Chinese woman holding an entire bat with chopsticks, appearing to eat the creature in a soup. The Daily Mail also reported on the video, and YouTube channel RT shared the footage. The clip was reportedly met with outrage from Twitter users, who quickly began calling out Chinese eating habits as the cause of the outbreak.

But here's the thing, per Foreign Policy: That video in question reportedly wasn't filmed in Wuhan or China in general—the woman in the video, who news outlets have identified as Wang Mengyun, is a host of an online travel show who was actually eating a dish in Palau, an island country located in the western Pacific ocean. The video was also reportedly filmed in 2016—well before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Mengyun has also reportedly apologized for the footage. "I am sorry everyone. I should not have eaten a bat," she said, according to the South China Morning Post. “[I] had no idea during filming that there was such a virus,” she continued. “I realized it only recently.”

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So where did coronavirus originate—and is it linked to bats at all?

This is where it gets tricky: Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn't have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it's still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.

In fact, that theory—that the novel coronavirus did begin at a wet market—is supported by a new research article in the Journal of Medical Virology. For the article, researchers studied the genetic code of 2019-nCoV and found that it's most closely related to two SARS-like coronavirus samples, suggesting that it, too, may have had a bat origin. But when researchers looked deeper, they discovered that the protein codes of 2019-nCoV were most like those used in snakes.

The possible reasoning, according to the research article and an article from The Conversation, via CNN: Snakes often hunt bats in the wild—and because snakes were also sold at the seafood market in Wuhan, the novel coronavirus may have jumped from bats to snakes to humans at the beginning of the outbreak. Still, more research on that theory needs to be done—which is especially hard now that the Wuhan seafood market has recently been disinfected and shut down.

Overall, the origin of the novel coronavirus is still filled with what-ifs and maybes, but according to most reports, it's likeliest that bats (and possibly snakes) are to blame as the animal carriers of 2019-nCoV—but as far as "bat soup" is concerned, it's just an extremely misinformed (and potentially xenophobic) rumor.

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