CLAIM: The virus outbreak spreading from China is nothing new; patents were created around it years ago.
THE FACTS: The patents being shared online are not related to the new respiratory virus that has sickened hundreds of people in China and caused concern around the world. The virus, which causes coughing, fever, breathing difficulty and pneumonia, was blamed for at least 26 deaths in China as of Friday.
As the U.S. reported its first case of the virus Tuesday, social media users began spreading misinformation suggesting the U.S. government was aware of the virus for years, citing patents related to the virus as proof. Some posts said the virus was created in a lab. But the patents being shared are for previous viruses — one for avian infectious bronchitis virus, and another for SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS led to a global epidemic in 2003 that affected more than 8,000 people globally and killed more than 770. None of the deaths were in the U.S.
Confusion surrounding the patents appears to stem from use of the word coronavirus when describing the current situation. Coronavirus is a broad name for a family of viruses that includes the common cold, but when found in bats, camels and other animals it has evolved into more severe illnesses, as was the case with the SARS epidemic. Social media users sharing what they believe to be patents for the new virus, a member of the coronavirus family, are in fact sharing separate patents for avian infectious bronchitis virus and SARS. In 2015, The Pirbright Institute filed for the patent related to the avian infectious bronchitis virus, which infects poultry, according to Justia, a legal information database. The patent also covers porcine delta-coronavirus that infects pigs. Both are in the coronavirus family.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Pirbright confirmed that the patent is not for the new virus and that the research institute in Surrey, England, does not currently work with human coronaviruses. The patent being shared online covers the development of a weakened form of the coronavirus that could be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals, according to the institute. Some posts with the false claims were spread by anti-vaccination accounts on Facebook and Twitter, where they received hundreds of shares. Social media users were also sharing a link to the Google patent site which shows a coronavirus patent for SARS, not the new virus. A spokesman with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press that the patent is not related to the new coronavirus.
“SARS was caused by a different coronavirus,” the spokesman said. “We are still in the process of learning a lot about this virus, including exactly what may be the natural host of this virus.”