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The Covid lab escape theory! This has been in the background for a while, but it came roaring to the forefront when a prominent news source claimed that the US Department of Energy concluded that Covid was the result of a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China. So, is that it? Now we know where it came from? Confidence is low on our end that we'e going to be able to answer definitively.

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The COVID lab-leak theory: This has been in the background for a while but it came roaring to the forefront when a prominent news source claimed that the US Department of Energy concluded that COVID was the result of a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China. So is that it? Now we know where it came from? Well, that's the topic of this week's Healthcare Triage. 

 The Reports

On February 26, 2023, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Department of Energy had concluded that a laboratory leak was most likely responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. What they did not include in this explosive statement that made up the first paragraph of the story is that the Department delivered this conclusion with "Low Confidence," typically meaning that solid analytical conclusions can't be made from the information available. This puts them in line with the FBI who also concluded that a lab leak was likely, though they were of "moderate confidence," which means that the available information is credible and plausible, but could be interpreted in a number of ways. 

On the flip side, The National Intelligence Council and three other intelligence agencies have previously asserted that the virus came about via natural transmission, but they also delivered this with "low confidence." 


If you came here to find a definitive answer on how COVID-19 began, I'm sorry to say we don't have it. Despite headlines claiming this or that to be true, the real truth is that we aren't completely sure what happened, and there's uncertainty in both the lab-leak and natural origin theories. 

For the lab leak theory, there is still no evidence of the virus actually being in the labs in question in Wuhan, and there has yet to be evidence that it was engineered at all. For the natural origin theory, it is still unclear which animal the virus may have jumped from to get to humans. So far, the most closely related virus located in nature was in bats, all the way in Laos, which is over 1000 miles away from Wuhan. 

Importantly though, virologists feel very strongly that a lab leak's not to blame. And given the evidence they've presented, we can't help but agree. Studies examining both genomic diversity and situational factors support animal to human transmission at the wholesale market in Wuhan.

 Likely evidence

Genetic analyses estimate the timing of the first spillovers of the virus, and they coincide with the first documented COVID outbreak-- the one at the market in Wuhan.  We know, thanks to photographs, that animals able to carry the virus were in the wholesale market in Wuhan in December of 2019. The virus was later found on a processing machine, as in animal processing, in a stall where such animals were kept. In one stall, positive samples came from items included a feather hair remover, and a metal cage. 

In addition, one of the leading virologists working to determine the origins of COVID-19 told NPR, and I quote, "It's absurd how strong the geographical association is to the market." As he points out, the market is directly linked to something like half of the earliest COVID-19 cases, with more cases occurring around the market than you would expect to occur at random. 

In fact, their analysis indicates that the odds of seeing these patterns near the market, without hte market being a source of transmission, are about 1 in 10,000. 

 Future applications

While we're still fuzzy on many details of what happened to bring about the pandemic, relying on the data we have currently available to us leans reasonably in the direction of animal to human transmission as opposed to a lab outbreak. But it's just leaning. This isn't a binary thing, and either could still be true. 

Regardless, why not focus on both theories as potential sources of deadly pandemics, and work to make sure that new viruses don't come from either lab leaks or animal to human transmission? Then we all win! 

Hey did you enjoy this episode? You might enjoy this previous episode on COVID and blood types. We'd appreciate it if you'd Like this video, subscribe to the channel down below, and consider going to, where you can help support the show, make it bigger and better. We'd like to especially thank our research associates, Joe Sevits, Edward Liljeholm, and Brian Nam, and of course our Surgeon Admiral Sam.