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Where Did Coronavirus Come from? First Hungarian Genomics Analysis of Epidemic Completed

Fanni Kaszás 2020.05.11.

Hungarian experts examined what was happening in the country at the end of the first month of the epidemic, immediately after the introduction of the restrictive measures: where the virus in Hungary came from and how actively it spread in the country. After sequencing the virus genomes, an excellent professional network of scientists from more than five Hungarian research centers worked together and started a complex genetic analysis to get answers to these questions, which Virológia Pécs (Virology Pécs) posted the results of, illustrated with pictures, on their Facebook page.

The first complete Hungarian coronavirus genome has been successfully sequenced by the Virological Research Group of the Szentágothai Research Center at the University of Pécs and the Bio-informatics Research Group back in March.

Genome of Coronavirus Sequenced in Hungary for First Time

Back then, Virológia Pécs also posted about the most probable origin of the first Hungarian coronavirus genomes. As they said, the genomes of the virus provide a wealth of information for researchers and enable them to look into the virus’ “family tree.” Every single mutation that the virus – which originates from China – accumulates in different people in different geographical locations can be used as a kind of imprint in case they want to explain where it came from. Since then, scientists have worked hard to determine where the virus came from and how it spread in Hungary, based on further research of the genomes.

The figures have been prepared using a network-based and evolutionary phylogenetic approach and these figures provide excellent support for the rest of the research. It is clear from both analyses that there have been multiple and parallel introductions, mainly of European origin.

This means that as a result of the pan-European closure wave, people returned home in a relatively short period of time, with whom the virus also arrived, from several different sources and locations. This does not mean that the arrival of the virus did not happen before, but it has taken place along this scenario in the time period examined by the experts.

However, viruses from other continents can also be detected in the Hungarian samples, their origins can be traced back to either China or the United States. It is important to note that this is the most likely picture that can be outlined based on the currently known genome data set.

In Hungary, at the beginning of the restrictive measures, experts could already see local spread chains, and in mid-March, local infections could already be traced in several parts of the country. These can be deduced from the degree of genetic similarity. However, experts say it was lucky timing to introduce restrictive measures in Hungary (and in the entire Central European region) at that time, because this prevented the smaller local chains from becoming major dispersal chains or even epidemic focal points and epicenters.

Currently, at this stage of the epidemic, the more serious discipline of the population, the rapid response of health authorities, and the quick and effective isolation of patients are extremely important. The experts draw attention to the fact that although the restrictions were lifted in the countryside, the virus is still circulating among the Hungarian population.

featured photo: Csaba Krizsán/MTI