Shi Zhengli, famously known as “Batwoman”, has warned about another coronavirus outbreak. Shi is known for her extensive research on viruses transferring from animals, particularly bats, to humans. She stated that it is highly probable that another coronavirus will emerge in the future.
Shi’s cautionary note is rooted in the history of coronaviruses, which caused two significant outbreaks. The 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. Both outbreaks resulted in a substantial global impact.
Who is “Batwomen”?
Shi Zhengli is a Chinese virologist who researches SARS-like coronaviruses of bat origin. She directs the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Shi has been studying bats for over 20 years, and she has made significant contributions to our understanding of coronaviruses and their potential to spill over into humans. In 2017, Shi and her team discovered a new coronavirus in a population of bats in Yunnan province that was 96.2% identical to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Shi’s work has been praised by many scientists, but she has also been the target of conspiracy theories and personal attacks, particularly during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people have accused her of accidentally or intentionally releasing SARS-CoV-2 from her lab, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
In a 2020 interview with Scientific American, Shi said, “Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks.” She also said, “We must find them before they find us.”
Shi and her team from the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted a study assessing the risk of human transmission for 40 different coronavirus species. Alarmingly, half of them were labeled as “highly risky.” Six of these species had already caused diseases in humans. And three others had evidence of causing diseases or infecting other animal species.
Shi’s newest research is significant because it suggests that there are other coronaviruses in bats that are capable of infecting humans and causing disease. This is a reminder that the threat of another pandemic is very real and that we need to be prepared.
The fact that RpYN06 is more transmissible to humans than SARS-CoV-2 is also concerning. This suggests that if RpYN06 were to spill over into humans, it could cause a pandemic that is even more difficult to control than the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it is important to note that RpYN06 has not yet detected in humans. This means that there is still time to develop vaccines and treatments that are effective against this virus
According to research, the likelihood of future disease emergence possibly caused by another coronavirus. This prediction is based on an analysis of various viral traits, such as population, genetic diversity, host species, and past zoonotic events.
The study was published in the English-language journal Emerging Microbes & Infections in July. However, it only gained attention on Chinese social media recently.
Some public health experts have noticed that Chinese authorities are downplaying COVID-19 and some cities have stopped releasing infection data. This change in approach aligns with China’s desire to move forward from the pandemic.
Besides identifying the risks, Shi’s team has also identified efficient testing tools to actively monitor these high-risk viruses. Additionally, they have pinpointed the crucial hosts of the pathogens. It includes natural hosts like bats and rodents. And potential intermediate hosts like camels, civets, pigs, or pangolins.
Dictionary of Coronaviruses, which is a comprehensive reference book on coronaviruses written by Shi Zhengli and her colleagues. The book published in Chinese in 2020 and in English in 2022.
The Dictionary of Coronaviruses covers a wide range of topics related to coronaviruses, including their biology, taxonomy, evolution, epidemiology, and pathogenesis. It also includes information on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of coronavirus infections.
The book intended for a wide audience, including scientists, clinicians, public health professionals, and students. It is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about coronaviruses.
Many Chinese virologists are hesitant to comment on Shi’s research, given the controversies surrounding her work and the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s alleged involvement in the origins of COVID-19.
Despite the uncertainties and controversies, there’s a pressing need for discussions on lessons learned from the pandemic and how to enhance preparedness for future outbreaks. Shi Zhengli’s warning serves as a timely reminder of the ongoing global challenge posed by coronaviruses.