- Conspiracy theorists mistakenly claim the 2015 Pirbright Institute Coronavirus Patent is evidence of a more nefarious plot
- The viral patent link is related to SARS and an avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) that only infects poultry
- Coronaviruses are a vast family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses that range from the common cold to deadly pneumonia
- The current coronavirus seen in China and other countries is known as 2019-nCoV and there is currently no vaccine
- It is believed the current outbreak originated in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market located in Wuhan, China
- The market claimed to sell civets in an online ad, which is believed to be the intermediate host between bats and humans that caused the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak
With the international community watching the development of the deadly coronavirus it was only a matter of time before online conspiracy theorists would find their opportunity to shine. That opportunity came in the form of the Pirbright Institute coronavirus patent on Justia.
Before getting into the coronavirus patent, let’s take a minute to look at the actual virus. Coronaviruses belong to a vast family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses that can be as mild as the common cold. In some cases, the viruses have been known to cause more serious respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
In general, coronaviruses are most commonly found in animals, with only a small number capable of affecting humans. In rare cases, some coronaviruses can evolve and be transferred from animals to humans. According to Live Science, past examples of this evolution can be seen in the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
The SARS virus is believed to have originated from bats. The infected bats then spread the disease to civets—a small catlike mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa and eaten as a delicacy in China—which in return spread the disease to humans. MERS is believed to have originated from bats and spread to humans through camels. This information will be important a little later in the article.
The 2015 Pirbright Institute Coronavirus Patent
According to Justia, on July 23, 2015, the Pirbright Institute filed for a patent on the “Coronavirus.” Or at least that is what many online believe. The Pirbright Institute has existed since 1914 when it was established as a cattle testing station for tuberculosis. In 1924 the cattle testing station became the Pirbright Experimental Station for the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Committee. By 1958 Pirbright was designated as the FAO World Reference Laboratory for Foot-and-Mouth disease virus (FMDV).
In 1963 the institute was renamed as the Animal Virus Research Institute. Research began on other viral diseases considered to be a threat to the United Kingdom, such as bluetongue, swine vesicular disease and rinderpest. By 1967 Pirbright played a major role in discovering the origin of an FMDV outbreak in the UK that eventually led to more than 400,000 animals being slaughtered across 2,000 farms.
In 1986 The Animal Virus Research Institute at Pirbright, the Houghton Poultry Research Station in Cambridgeshire, the Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU) in Edinburgh and the Institute for Research on Animal Diseases at Compton (Berkshire) combined to form The Institute of Animal Health. The NRU retained its name but the other three became the Compton, Houghton, and Pirbright Laboratories.
Over the years Pirbright has played a major role in the eradication of bluetongue in 2007 and rinderpest in 2011. In 2015, Compton and Berkshire consolidated and moved to the BBSRC National Virology Centre. According to the institute’s website, Pirbright began working towards the development of vaccines against FMDV, African swine fever and swine influenza. “New world-class facilities attract eminent researchers from around the globe to continue our mission of excellent research and surveillance of viral diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans,” the Pirbright mission statement reads.
The Patent Is Not For 2019-nCoV
The patent owned by Pirbright for the coronavirus has nothing to do with the virus that we are seeing today, dubbed the 2019-nCoV virus. The link to the patent being shared on social media is related to two completely different viruses in the coronavirus family. One of the patents is for SARS and the other is for a mutated form of avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). The IBV virus in the patent is infectious to poultry, not humans. These mutations of IBV were created as an attempt to weaken the virus so a vaccine could be used to protect chickens from the disease.
Despite the opinion of social media users, there is no vaccine for 2019-nCoV. Researchers are still trying to discover the origin of the disease which began in early December in Wuhan, China. After 15 more deaths were reported on Friday, the death toll in China has jumped to 41 with over 800 confirmed cases. Following the increase in deaths and over 200 new cases of pneumonia with coronavirus infection detected in the Hubei province, China has expanded current travel restrictions. Confirmed cases outside of China include Japan with two cases, Thailand with four cases, Vietnam with two cases, France with two cases and America with two cases. In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring at least 61 potential cases across 22 states.
Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market
Going back to the origins of SARS and MERS, the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market located in Wuhan is suspected to be the origin of the 2019-nCoV outbreak. The market was shut down in late December—right at the start of the outbreak—and is now under surveillance by security staff. One stall specifically caught the eye of people online.
According to the South China Morning Post, a menu posted on Dazhong Dianping—an incredibly popular review app in China—from a stall located on the east side of the market sold around 100 varieties of live animals and poultry. Some of the animals being sold included, foxes, wolf cubs and masked palm civets. Again, the World Health Organisation believe civets were the intermediate host that carried SARS from bats to humans in a similar wet market in the Guangdong province near Hong Kong. The outbreak killed 774 people worldwide and infected 8,098 in total.
The Wuhan Administration for Industry and Commerce confirmed the sale of live animals in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in September. Government officials inspected eight stalls that sold live animals, such as, tiger frogs, snakes and hedgehogs. Officials also checked business licenses and approval documents. Unapproved wildlife business is said to be strictly prohibited but is still actively occurring. Breeding wildlife in captivity is allowed in China but companies must have a license from provincial authorities. Wuhan health authorities said on Sunday they would tighten their control over agriculture and seafood markets by banning the sale of poultry and wildlife.
Independent political economist Hu Xingdou said the love for eating wildlife has deep cultural, economic and political roots in China. While Americans places focus on human and animal rights, Chinese people view food “as a primary need because starving is a big threat and an unforgettable part of the national memory.” Even though starvation is not a problem to many in China nowadays, “eating novel food or meat, organs or parts from rare animals or plants has become a measure of identity to some people.”
While the West values freedom and other human rights, chinese people view food as their primary need because starving is a big threat and an unforgettable part of the national memory.
While feeding themselves is not a problem to many chinese nowadays, eating a novel food or meat, organs or parts from rare animals or plants has become a measure of identity to some people.Hu Xingdou Via South China Morning Post