A new virus found in Russian bats may be contagious to humans

Scientists at Washington State University have found that a virus recently discovered in a Russian bat is similar to SARS-CoV-2, can infect humans, and is resistant to existing coronavirus vaccines. The study is published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Hundreds of coronaviruses have been found in recent years, mostly in bats in Asia, but most are not capable of infecting human cells. Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were detected in bats from Western Russia in late 2020, and initially, they did not seem to pose a threat to humans. Khosta-1 actually turned out not to be dangerous to humans. The new virus belongs to a subcategory of Sarbecoviruses, which includes the pandemic-causing coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The spike-like proteins of Khosta-2 are similar to those of SARS-CoV-2, so they can infect human cells. In addition, the virus is resistant to both monoclonal antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and to antibodies from people vaccinated against COVID-19.

Fortunately, the new virus lacks some of the genes thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of Sarbecoviruses in humans. However, there is a risk of recombination of Khosta-2 with SARS-CoV-2 or another virus. This could lead to an even more dangerous virus capable of human-to-human transmission.

The discovery underscores the need to develop universal vaccines to protect against Sarbecoviruses in general, not just known variants of SARS-CoV-2.