Just as the onset of the pandemic seemed to be diminishing, a new variant of COVID-19 has been found in British horseshoe bats. However, there is not much cause for concern.
This is published in a report on the Research Square preprint server. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.
This new variant is called RhGB01 and belongs to a family known as sarbecovirus, which also includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current COVID-19 pandemic, and SARS-CoV, which caused the SARS outbreak in 2003.
“Horseshoe bats are found throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and the bats we tested are at the western edge of their range,” explained Professor Diana Bell, an expert in new zoonotic diseases from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences. While the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, have so far been found in horseshoe bats in places like Laos and China, this finding suggests their more widespread presence, Bell said.
“Our results highlight the need for robust genotype testing for these types of viruses in bat populations around the world,” she said. “And that raises an important question as to what other animals carry these types of viruses.”
This virus is described as “not a threat to humans,” according to Zoological Society of London professor Andrew Cunningham. Unlike SARS-CoV-2. It is stated that RhGB01 is “not compatible with being able to infect human cells.”
The reason why this variant was discovered much later than the others is that this variant is expected to have been present in bats for “a very long time – probably many thousands of years,” Bell explained, but “we did not know. that before, because it’s the first time such tests have been performed in British bats. “
“We already know that there are also different coronaviruses in many other mammalian species,” she said. “This is a case of ‘search and you will find’.”
If the variant mutates, then it can create problems for humans. This can happen if the virus is transmitted from a covid-19-positive patient to the bat.
“If a bat with the RhGB01 infection we found were to become infected with SARS-CoV-2, there is a risk that these viruses will hybridize and a new virus will appear. [that could] … Infects people, ”he explained. “Preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats and thus reducing the potential for virus mutation is crucial with the current global mass vaccination campaign against this virus.”
This will dictate to people how to be careful while interacting with wild animals, even if it is to help them.
“A bat rehabilitator caring for a rescued animal and infecting it with SARS-CoV2 … would allow for genetic recombination if it already carries another sarbecovirus,” Bell explained. “We need to apply strict rules globally to anyone who handles bats and other wildlife.”