Beijing: A study by Chinese researchers had recently revealed the existence of a type of virus, NeoCov, that spreads among bats in South Africa and may pose a threat to humans in future if it mutates further.
However, several media reports published in the last couple of days and citing the study have called NeoCoV a variant of COVID-19 and that the virus has a fatality rate of 33 per cent (1 in 3), causing panic among people. In reality, a report by Russian news agency Sputnik News has confirmed that the virus is just similar to SARS-CoV-2 (that causes COVID-19) in several ways and it also clearly said that the virus was not a new one.
There is a little connection between the paper and the inferences that have been drawn in the news reports.
The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study recently posted on the preprint repository BioRxiv shows that NeoCov is closely related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a viral disease first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wuhan University found that the bat receptors used by the NeoCoV were similar to the ones that is used by SARS-CoV2 for infecting human beings. Rest everything is an extrapolation from here.
In its current form, NeoCov does not infect humans but further mutations may make it potentially harmful, the researchers noted.
"In this study, we unexpectedly found that NeoCoV and its close relative, PDF-2180-CoV, can efficiently use some types of bat Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and, less favourably, human ACE2 for entry," the authors of the study noted.
ACE2 is a receptor protein on cells that provides the entry point for the coronavirus to hook into and infect a wide range of cells.
"Our study demonstrates the first case of ACE2 usage in MERS-related viruses, shedding light on a potential bio-safety threat of the human emergence of an ACE2 using "MERS-CoV-2" with both high fatality and transmission rate," they said.
The researchers further noted that infection with NeoCov could not be cross-neutralised by antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 or MERS-CoV.
"Considering the extensive mutations in the RBD regions of the SARS-CoV-2 variants, especially the heavily mutated Omicron variant, these viruses may hold a latent potential to infect humans through further adaptation," the authors of the study added.
A receptor-binding domain (RBD) is a key part of a virus that allows it to dock to body receptors to gain entry into cells and lead to infection.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said further study is required to find out whether the virus poses any threat to humans.
"Animals, particularly wild animals are the source of more than 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses. Coronaviruses are often found in animals, including in bats which have been identified as a natural reservoir of many of these viruses," WHO said to Russian news agency Tass.