Mexico City— Khosta-2 is a recently discovered virus in bats from Russia. According to researchers, it is similar to SARS-CoV-2, which is behind Covid-19.
It is likely to infect humans and, if this transmission occurs, it would be resistant to current SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, Washington State University (WSU) said in a statement.
What is Khosta-2?
Khosta-2 is a new virus of the coronavirus genus and sarbecovirus subgenus, just like SARS-CoV-2.
It was found by Russian scientists in samples of horseshoe bats collected between March and October 2020 in and around Sochi National Park. They published their findings in January 2022 in the scientific journal “Viruses”.
Its discovery was made on a par with Khosta-1, whose risk to humans is low, according to WSU.
Why is it worrying?
Hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, especially in bats from Asia. However, most cannot infect humans. Scientists originally thought that was the case for Khosta-1 and Khosta-2.
A team of researchers from WSU’s Paul G. Allen School of Global Health made up of virologists, immunologists and viral ecologists studied the new viruses. Although they determined that the first represents a low risk for people, the second presents worrying characteristics.
Khosta-2 can use its spike protein, or S protein, to infect cells by binding to a receptor protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2), which is present on human cells.
The above is also done by SARS-CoV-2, indicates the study published in the scientific journal “PLoS Pathogens”.
“We were really surprised to find that they could infect human cells,” said Michael Letko, a virologist at WSU.
Do vaccines work?
The scientists also wanted to determine whether current SARS-CoV-2 vaccines offered protection against Khosta-2, so they studied their reaction to blood serum from vaccinated human populations.
It was concluded that the new virus was not neutralized by the vaccines. Sera from people infected with the Omicron variant were also tested. The antibodies in that case were also ineffective.
Letko stressed that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife pose a risk to current vaccination campaigns against Covid-19, which is why he considered it necessary to develop universal vaccines to protect people against sarbecoviruses in general, not just known variants. of SARS-CoV-2.
How much risk is there?
According to Letko, Khosta-2 lacks some of the genes that are believed to be involved in pathogenesis in humans, that is, in the process of disease development.
However, there is a risk that it will recombine with another virus, such as SARS-CoV-2.
“When you see that SARS-CoV-2 has this ability to spread from humans to wildlife and then there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties that we really don’t want them to have, this scenario is set. where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to create a potentially riskier virus.”
Specialists from Tulane University also participated in the study.
Are bats dangerous?
Starting with the Covid-19 pandemic, some people began to fear bats. However, specialists in the conservation of these animals from the University of Illinois assure that they do not represent a risk to people.
Although they are carriers of viruses that cause disease, they are not a danger to people unless they come into contact with bat blood or saliva, a rare situation.
Most of these animals try to stay as far away from humans as possible.
People put themselves at risk when they come near and interact with wild animals. Also by not thinking carefully about where their animal products come from, by living close to their habitat and when they feed them.
It is important to avoid the destruction of their habitat because as they disappear, they come closer. Also, be careful with wildlife markets and trade in exotic species because they are ways of approaching certain animals that naturally do not approach people.