New Coronavirus in Bats Could Spread to Humans


As if SARS-2, which causes COVID-19 in humans hasn’t done enough damage, and is finally now waning, virus hunters have discovered a new coronavirus in bats that could be another problem. This new virus can infect human cells and is already able to skirt the immune protection from COVID-19 vaccines.

Just reported in the journal PLoS Pathogens, scientists led by Michael Letko, assistant professor in the Paul Allen School of Public Health at Washington State University, found a group of coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 that were initially discovered living in Asian bats in Russia in 2020. At the time, scientists did not think the virus, called Khosta-2, posed a threat to people.

However, when Letko’s team did a more careful analysis, they found that the virus could infect human cells in a laboratory setting, the first warning sign that it could become a possible public health threat. A related virus also found in the Asian 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. Receptors on human cells are the way that viruses get into cells.

When Letko combined serum from people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with Khosta-2, the antibodies in the serum did not neutralize the virus. The same thing happened when they combined the Khosta-2 virus with serum from people who had recovered from the Omicron variant coronavirus infections. So it clearly appears that Khosta-2 would evade our vaccines.

The good news is that right now – based on the genetics of the Khosta-2, this virus appears unlikely to cause serious illness in humans. Of course, the virus could change and/or recombine in other species to indeed cause serious illness.

It’s a sobering reminder that we all live on the planet together – for better or worse. One Health aren’t just buzz words.