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Vaccine-resistant coronavirus similar to COVID-19 found in Russian bats

Photo by <a href="https://pixabay.com/images/id-5639890/" target="_blank">Anke Schroeder</a>/Pixiabay
Photo by Anke Schroeder/Pixiabay

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- A coronavirus recently discovered in Russian bats can infect humans and may be resistant to vaccines, leading researchers to call for creating jabs to prevent against all similar viruses.

The virus Khosta-2 is a sarbecovirus -- a lineage in the coronavirus family which includes SARS-CoV-2 -- first found in samples collected from bats near Sochi National Park in Russia from March to October 2020, though it initially did not appear to be a threat to humans.

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Khosta-2 has already shown that it can infect human cells and is resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, according to the study published Thursday in the journal PLoS Pathogens. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness, emerged in Wuhan, China, around January 2020.

Michael Letko, a virologist with Washington State University and the corresponding author of the study, said in a news release that the research shows that sarbecoviruses like COVID-19 are circulating outside of Asia, "even in places like western Russia."

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"Genetically, these weird Russian viruses looked like some of the others that had been discovered elsewhere around the world, but because they did not look like SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really anything to get too excited about," Letko said.

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"But when we looked at them more, we were really surprised to find they could infect human cells. That changes a little bit of our understanding of these viruses, where they come from and what regions are concerning."

Letko said that the team determined that Khosta-2 right now lacks some of the genes needed for pathogenesis in humans but that there are risks of it recombining with a second virus like SARS-CoV-2 which could give it that ability.

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He added that SARS-CoV-2 virus has the ability to "spill back" from humans into wildlife were viruses like Khosta-2 are "waiting in those animals with these properties we really don't want them to have."

"Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn't just protect against the next variant of SARS-2 but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general," Letko said.

"Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed to specific viruses we know infect human cells or those that seem to pose the biggest risk to infect us. But that is a list that's everchanging. We need to broaden the design of these vaccines to protect against all sarbecoviruses."

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