A virus close to Covid-19 discovered, researchers call for the development of a universal vaccine

Two and a half years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists from the State University of Washington published, on Wednesday September 21, 2022, the results of their research on a virus from the same family, discovered on bats in Russia, which would be able to infect humans and evade SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and vaccines.

Called Khosta-2, it belongs to the category of “sarbecovirus” – the same sub-category of coronavirus as Covid-19, with which it presents “disturbing features”according to this study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Our research demonstrates once again that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside of Asia – even in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was discovered – also pose a health threat. worldwide and the ongoing vaccination campaigns against SARS-CoV-2 said Michael Letko, virologist and study author.

According to him, this discovery highlights the need to develop new vaccines that do not only target known variants of Covid-19, such as Omicron, but which protect against all sarbecoviruses.

Most sarbecoviruses are unable to infect humans

Of the hundreds of sarbecoviruses discovered in recent years, most have been found in Asian bats and are not capable of infecting human cells.

The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered near Russia’s Sochi National Park in 2020, and initially appeared not to pose a threat to humans, according to the study authors.

“Genetically, these strange Russian viruses looked like some others that had been discovered elsewhere in the world, but because they didn’t look like SARS-CoV-2, nobody thought there was really anything to worry about”explains Michael Letko. But when we looked at them more closely, we were really surprised to find that they could infect human cells. It changes our understanding of these viruses a bit, where they come from and which regions are affected. he added.

Good news nonetheless. If Khosta-2 did manage to infect humans, it does not appear to have any genes that could cause serious disease in humans. A data which could however evolve if the virus were to circulate on a large scale and mix with SARS-CoV-2 genes.

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