Experts still cannot give these people an accurate diagnosis.
US chief infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci has called on China to disclose information about six miners who contracted an unknown virus in Mojiang County in 2012. The expert turned to the Chinese authorities at the beginning of the month against the background of active discussion in the United States of the laboratory hypothesis of the appearance of the coronavirus. According to Fauci, the incident with the workers who fell ill at the mine may shed light on the origin of COVID-19 and bring the answer to the question of where the coronavirus came from. We tried to find out what is known about the “Mojiang virus” and whether it is related to the pandemic.
In April 2012, six miners aged between 30 and 60 were cleaning an abandoned mine in Yunnan Province of bat feces. Later, they were all taken to a hospital in Kunming County due to a strange illness. The workers showed approximately the same symptoms — cough, fever, pain in the head and chest, as well as difficulty breathing. Despite the efforts of doctors, three of the six miners died from the effects of pneumonia.
What did the scientists find in the mine?
The mine itself, where the miners worked, is located in Mojiang Han Autonomous County in southwestern China. This is about 1.5 thousand km from Wuhan, the place where COVID-19 was first discovered. To determine the cause of the disease and death of the miners, experts from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) went to this mine in the same year.
Scientists managed to get a sample of the “Mojiang virus” (paramyxovirus MojV), which was later found in rats. At the same time, studies have not confirmed that it caused the disease of people. A year later, another virus, bat beta-coronavirus RaTG13, was discovered in the same mine. As it turned out in 2020, it is the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2 (96% similarity). However, despite the high similarity, RaTG13 cannot be effectively introduced into the human body.
According to Reuters, in total, from 2012 to 2015, WIV researchers identified up to 293 coronaviruses in and around the mine. In November 2020, the institute revealed the existence of eight other samples of SARS-like coronaviruses found in the same locations.
Why did the workers die?
According to Dr. Shi Zhengli, a leading WIV virologist known as Lady Bat, the symptoms of pneumonia in miners could be caused by a fungal infection. Dr. Shi directs the WIV’s work on emerging infectious diseases, and over the years, her group has collected more than 10,000 bat samples from all over China.
“The mine stank horribly,” the doctor told Scientific American. “The bat guano, covered in fungus, filled the cave.” According to the virologist, the fungus turned out to be a pathogen, which made the miners sick.
The study, which Lady Bat and her colleagues presented last November, notes that experts once again tested 13 blood serum samples from four miners and found no evidence that they were infected with SARS-CoV-2. At the same time, Dr. Shi did not provide a detailed description of what the miners were suffering from in any scientific journal. In a recent interview with The New York Times, she promised that she would soon publish such an article.
At the same time, as indicated by Reuters, the Chinese authorities have not provided any detailed information about the miners who fell ill in 2012. Only their surnames, ages, and symptoms are known. All this was published in 2013 in his dissertation by a graduate student of Kunming Medical University, Li Xu, who treated miners. His work is still available in the Chinese online database of scientific articles. In his study, he concludes that mountain women died from a coronavirus similar to the one that caused SARS. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, and pulmonologist who has studied the medical records of miners agreed with his conclusions.
Some other experts also point out that if it was a fungal disease, then only antifungal drugs could stop the disease. In addition, the condition of the vessels, thromboembolism, and a reduced number of lymphocytes still indicate viral pneumonia.
Last year, Lee’s dissertation was widely circulated online as alleged proof that the coronavirus, very similar to SARS-CoV-2, was killing people almost a decade ago. The treatment methods used by doctors at that time were also striking. This includes the use of steroids, antibiotics, blood thinning, and connection to a ventilator. Almost everything that now treats COVID-19 patients around the world.
Others believe that the document indirectly confirms that the WIV received, studied, and conducted experiments to “enhance the function” of viruses found in the mine.
“What do the medical records of these people say? Did they have the virus? What was that? It is possible that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 were in that cave and either began to spread naturally or passed through the laboratory,” Dr. Fauci said in early June.
Some other specialists also ask similar questions. “In his dissertation, Dr. Lee writes that four miners tested positive for antibodies against SARS-like CoV. However, questions remain as to which specific antigen and protocol was used to detect the antibodies in the patients. Why is this information not available in any of the open research conducted by the WIV? Why severe cases of pneumonia were in 2012 not mentioned in any of the WIV publications until 2020? Have any other SARS-like viruses been isolated from bat fecal samples collected in 2012-2013? Why were no cases of infection by miners in Mojiang reported to any official treatment organization, such as the WHO, in 2012? Why didn’t programs like PREDICT mention cases of fatal pneumonia as a mini-outbreak? Was the Mojiang mine closed when?”
In addition, experts are concerned about whether the samples of the miners ‘ analyses are still stored in the WIV and whether they are available for study by other specialists.
What’s going on in this mine right now?
The Chinese authorities do not allow any independent research to be carried out in the mine. According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a security camera and a checkpoint were installed near this facility.
Foreign journalists have been detained several times in this post. Including a WSJ reporter who rode up to the mine on a mountain bike. According to the newspaper, the police interrogated him for five hours and demanded to remove photos of the mine from his mobile phone. Other journalists were not allowed to go to the mine, arguing that the region is unsafe because of wild elephants.
The villagers also allegedly told a WSJ reporter that the local authorities had demanded that they not discuss the mine with outsiders. At the same time, the publication notes that the entrance to the object looks overgrown and abandoned, no signs of research in this place were observed.