US scientists have discovered a new virus in bats that could be bad news for humans. The new virus, called Khosta-2 cannot just infect human cells, it is also resistant to current vaccines. Research published in the journal PLOS Pathogens says that the virus is resistant to the antibodies of people vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2—which causes COVID-19, reported Newsweek.
The virus was first discovered in bats in Russia in 2020 but at that time scientists did not think that the virus posed a threat to humans. After much careful research done by scientists, they found that the virus can infect human cells and it can become a possible public health threat.
What is Khosta-2?
Sarbecovirus, to which Khosta-2 and SARS-CoV-2 belong, is a subgroup of coronaviruses.
According to a report in Time magazine, a related virus also found in the Russian bats, Khosta-1, could not enter human cells readily, but Khosta-2 could. Khosta-2 attaches to the same protein, ACE2 that SARS-CoV-2 uses to penetrate human cells. A researcher says that receptors on human cells are the way that viruses get into cells. If a virus can’t get in the door, then it can’t get into the cell, and it’s difficult to establish any type of infection. The new virus can impact human cells readily. Michael Letko, an author of the study says that people vaccinated against covid-19 cannot neutralize the virus, and neither can people who have recovered from Omicron infections.
However, the researchers say that like the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, this virus does not have genes that can cause serious disease in people. But it can eventually change if it gets mixed with genes of SARS-CoV-2.
How does it spread?
Khosta-2 has been circulating in wildlife such as bats, pangolins, raccoon dogs and palm civets. Mr Letko told Newsweek, it is difficult to say at this stage whether Khosta-2 has the potential to spark an epidemic or even a pandemic.
The scientists warn that if Khosta-2 combines with SARS-CoV-2, it can have more infectious factors. “The chances of SARS-CoV-2 ever ‘meeting’ Khosta-2 in nature is surely very small, but there have been an increasing number of reports describing SARS-CoV-2 spilling back into wildlife—like white-tailed deer on the East Coast of the United States,” Letko said.
“Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn’t just protect against the next variant of SARS-2 (SARS-CoV-2) but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general,” Letko said.
He added, “Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed [for] specific viruses we know infect human cells or those that seem to pose the biggest risk to infect us. But that’s a list that’s ever-changing. We need to broaden the design of these vaccines to protect against all sarbecoviruses,” added Letko.
Known cases across the world
The virus lacks some of the genes believed to be involved in pathogenesis — that is, developing into a disease — in humans.