— The ancestors of the novel coronavirus may have been circulating in bats unnoticed for decades. And those coronaviruses likely also had the ability to infect humans, according to a new study published July 28 in the journal Nature Microbiology. A group of researchers analyzed parts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome and compared them with similar coronavirus found in bats and pangolins, according to a Live Science report.
Adding evidence to support previous findings, they discovered that SARS-CoV-2 was most closely related to another bat coronavirus, known as RaTG13. To figure out the timeline of the SARS-CoV-2 lineage, the researchers examined the number of mutations present in regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that hadn’t undergone recombination. They found that over a century ago, there was a single lineage that eventually would give rise to SARS-CoV-2, RaTG13 and Pangolin-2019 viruses, according to the report. At that time, the Pangolin-2019 virus diverged from the SARS-CoV-2 and the RaTG13 viruses. Then, in the 1960s or 1970s, this lineage split into two, creating the RaTG13 lineage and the SARS-CoV-2 lineage.
“The SARS-CoV-2 lineage circulated in bats for 50 or 60 years before jumping to humans,” co-lead author Maciej Boni, an associate professor of biology at Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics told Live Science. Near the end of 2019, “someone just got very unlucky” and came into contact with SARS-CoV-2 and that set off a pandemic.
— People who recover from COVID-19, even those who weren’t hospitalized, may have lingering heart damage and inflammation even months after being infected, a small new study suggests, according to another Live Science report. A group of researchers analyzed data from 100 adults in Germany who had recently recovered from COVID-19 — about one-third of them had been hospitalized and the rest recovered at home, according to the report. On MRI scans taken more than two months after their diagnosis, about three-quarters of these patients showed signs of heart abnormalities, including inflammation of the heart muscle, or myocarditis. Many patients also had detectable levels of a protein in their blood called troponin that can indicate heart injury, such as damage after a heart attack, according to the report. But it’s not clear if this type of heart involvement is permanent or dangerous in the long run, according to the report. These types of heart abnormalities occasionally occur with other respiratory diseases such as the flu and may be temporary and mild cases of heart inflammation often get better on their own, according to the report.
— The first COVID-19 patient in the U.S. to receive a double-lung transplant was discharged from the hospital this week, according to another Live Science report. After the coronavirus caused irreversible damage to her lungs, 28-year-old Mayra Ramirez underwent the transplant on June 5, Live Science previously reported. Ramirez must take anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life, but because she is young and healthy, “she’ll continue to get stronger and stronger,” her surgeon Dr. Ankit Bharat told The New York Times. Following Ramirez’s transplant, Northwestern conducted a second double-lung transplant for Brian Kuhns, a 62-year-old coronavirus patient. “Mayra and Brian wouldn’t be alive today without the double-lung transplants,” Bharat said in the statement. “COVID-19 completely destroyed their lungs, and they were critically ill going into the transplant procedure making it a daunting undertaking.” With both Kuhns and Ramirez now in recovery, Northwestern has two additional COVID-19 patients awaiting double-lung transplants, according to the report.