A research laboratory at Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine has discovered various forms of coronaviruses in samples collected from bats in the country.
Prof Denis Byarugaba, the lead research scientist at the laboratory, while addressing a public dialogue on Coronavirus in Kampala on Friday last week, said they had been doing a number of tests in the past years that detected the virus in common species that live with people.
It should be noted that there are various coronaviruses that exist.
“We have analysed 16,000 samples and seen a prevalence of coronaviruses at a prevalence of 0.6 per cent,” he said.
Prof Byarugaba said during the current outbreak, they have screened 500 bats and discovered mass coronavirus.
“Through a collaboration with a partner, we were able to isolate mass coronaviruses from bats,” he said.
The expert also said another test on camels from Karamoja, which are suspected to have the virus provided shocking findings.
“We specifically looked out for coronaviruses in camels. We screened 500 camels and we found 70 per cent positivity in our serological tests,” he said.
The types discovered are, however, different from Covid-19, the cause of the current global pandemic.
The researcher said there is need to intensify efforts to look for these viruses in other animals for better surveillance purposes.
According to Dr Sylvia Baluka, another expert at the college, and president of Uganda Veterinary Association (UVA), most diseases that affect man and which do come from animals, are zoonotics.
She says the government should avail more funds to strengthen research, monitoring and regulation of veterinary products to prevent these diseases before they spread to people.
Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) reacts
Pof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of UVRI, says the coronaviruses have been in Uganda for long.
“A number of people have been infected by coronaviruses. If you ever got short cold and cough, it could have been due to a coronavirus,” Kaleebu said.
He said the virus is in chicken, other birds and animals. “The virus was first discovered in 1960s. They infect birds and animals,” he said.
Why they became very dangerous
Prof Kaleebu explained however, that Covid-19 is proving deadly because it has just crossed from an animal to a new host, humans.
“This type leads to severe infection, it can severely infect your lungs. It is more dangerous than these other ones that have been around,” he said.
“The reason could be because it new in humans, it has been in other animals and has just crossed to humans and humans are not used to it,” he added.
The professor also postulated that the virus could have mutated to enable it survive in more hosts including man.
He explains that the virus, just like all living things have always been in a struggle to survive.
“The virus could have also just mutated. Every time a virus multiplies they keep on changing for them to survive and infect more hosts, just like HIV,” he said.
Types of coronaviruses
Prof Kaleebu says there are those that cause common cold that have been known for years in people.
“These are over six different types,” he said.
Kaleebu said that different animals have different forms of the virus.
“When you go to different animals, cows have different coronavirus, and birds have different types,” he said.
Why people recover without drugs
He says the body has natural power to win over the fight against viruses.
“Just like people get the fever and flu recover, it is the same with coronavirus. The majority of people [80 percent of the infected] recover, the people who die are majorly old people,” Prof Kaleebu said.
According to the expert, people who are immuno-suppressed could be at higher risk.
“If you have HIV and not in treatment, you may be affected more just like in old people whose immunity is poor,” he said.
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