According to a new study, a virus related to SARS-CoV-2 found in Russian bats might be able to infect humans.
The paper was published in the PLOS Pathogens journal and the authors suggested that this virus is resistant to antibodies resulting from the vaccines developed to protect us against SARS-CoV-2.
They also stated that their lab results prove the group of coronaviruses known as sarbecoviruses and found in wild animals outside of Asia are a real threat “to global health.”
There are hundreds of sarbecoviruses and most of them are found in bats.
The researchers specifically looked into two sarbecoviruses dubbed as Khosta-1 and Khosta-2, both of which were discovered by Russian scientists in the southwest region of their country.
One author of the study, Michael Letko, told Newsweek that “Sarbecoviruses were originally thought—in the 2000s—to circulate only in a specific type of bat regional to southern China, but over the past 20 years scientists have discovered so many more in diverse species and in different locations.”
He went on to stress that there is almost no doubt scientists will discover more of these viruses in the future.
It is important to note that most of the ones already identified are not able to infect humans but there are also some that are yet to be tested so their danger level to humans is still unknown.
The team of researchers has concluded that Khosta-2 might use the same entry method in order to infect human cells that the SARS-CoV-2 virus also uses.
Letko also stressed that “there’s no actual virus in our study—only molecular surrogates that can’t replicate and don’t have any other coronavirus genes besides the spike protein. I have started a laboratory expanding on this research, so when two new coronaviruses were discovered in Russia, I was really interested in trying them in my lab’s platform.”
With that being said, while the team suggested that the latest vaccine against Omicron does not seem efficient against the virus they focused on in the lab, Letko mentioned that “It may be possible that the immune response in an actual person would be more diverse and more effective than this simplified experimental system that we use.”
So does Khosta-2 have the potential to start another pandemic?
Letko noted that it’s hard to say, explaining that “Just because the virus can infect human cells doesn’t mean it will cause a pandemic or even transmit to one single person. Many factors control if a virus will transmit and if it will spread between individuals with the high efficiency needed for a pandemic.”