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WSU researchers say virus found in Russian bats could infect people

Courtesy the journal PLos Pathogens

They say the virus is part of the same sub-category of viruses as the one that causes Covid-19.

Washington State University researchers have found that a virus discovered two years ago in a Russian bat has the ability to work its way into the human body.

Michael Letko from the university’s School for Global Health says that makes the Khosta-2 virus one of the rare animal viruses that can invade human cells. What concerns him is that it is in the same category of viruses, SARS-2, that cause Covid-19.

“We’re not necessarily worried about this virus itself spreading over, but what it shows us is that there are these types of viruses with this ability to infect human cells that exist far beyond the small realm of the planet that we thought they exist," Letko said.

These viruses have traditionally been found in wildlife in China and Southeast Asia. Now, says Letko, says they’ve also been detected in Russia and places such as Bulgaria and the United Kingdom.

On the micro level, Letko worries that Khosta-2 could find its way into cells that other viruses already inhabit and combine with them to create new, lethal strains.

“In the worst case scenario, you would get something like Khosta-2 that can infect our cells, but is not necessarily taken out by the vaccine, that recombines with SARS 2 and picks up maybe some of the other genes in SARS-2 that are involved in virulence or enhanced transmission," he said.

Letko says the current vaccines aren’t formulated to combat Khosta-2, so if a person contracts it, they wouldn’t have protection. For that reason, he’s encouraging pharmaceutical companies that are working on vaccines to create serums that provide protection against a variety of viruses, rather than just one.

The Letko team’s research study was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

“There’s been a boom of research into bats and what kind of, especially, coronaviruses they might be carrying. And this team is just contributing to that kind of broader effort to find what viruses are in animals," he said.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.