A Lung Doctor Explained the Science of the Covid \u2018Lab Leak\u2019 Theory

Mike Hansen, MD, a certified specialist in pulmonary disease, internal medicine and critical care, has been making YouTube videos throughout Covid to dispel medical misinformation and clarify the facts surrounding coronavirus. In his most recent post, he addresses a somewhat controversial belief—that the original breakout was the result of the virus escaping a laboratory in China—which was recently supported by Jon Stewart during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

“Most previous outbreaks of infections have occurred naturally,” says Hansen. “Not just SARS and MERs, but HIV, influenza, Spanish flu, and ebola.” He explains that one prevailing idea behind the origins of Covid is that it occurred via zoonotic transmission, beginning in bats and eventually transmitting to humans, potentially via an intermediary animal.

But he acknowledges that there is some credence to the lab leak theory, especially after a report found that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) fell ill and had to be hospitalized in November 2019.

Additionally, investigations into how the pandemic started have led to some scientists and journalists digging into the possibility that Covid is actually the result of genetic manipulation, with Dr. Robert Redfield claiming that the virus’ genetic sequence seems especially adaptive to human ACE2 receptors. Virologist Kristian Anderson, however, says it’s highly improbable that the virus was genetically manipulated.

“The largest collection of bat samples, especially ones containing bat coronaviruses, are housed at the WIV,” says Hansen. “Could poor lab techniques by inadequately trained technicians allow the virus to escape? Of course. Could researchers at the WIV have made the virus more virulent and transmissible by experimenting with gain-of-function mutations? Absolutely.”

“These mutations are designed to hasten the evolutionary process so that scientists can be prepared for future pandemics,” he continues. “But this lab leak theory carries more controversy because it’s politically charged and has economic, social, and political implications.”

While there is certainly a historical precedent for lab leaks, i.e. the smallpox outbreak in the United Kingdom in 1978 and anthrax in the United States in 2014, Hansen concludes that it is unlikely sufficient evidence will be garnered any time soon to either confirm or debunk the theory.

“China’s refusal to allow investigations into the lab has only furthered accusations. There’s no solid evidence that SARS-COV2 infection originated in nature, or in a lab leak,” he says. “Unfortunately, so far, we don’t have an answer, and we might not get an answer for a long time, if we get an answer at all.”

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