Scientists have warned of the emergence of a new virus called WIV1-CoV which is similar to the SARS coronavirus, and identified to be found in the same hosts as SARS, Chinese horseshoe bats, that binds to the same receptors in the human body.
The WIV1-CoV virus, may induce the same results in humans as SARS – starting out with flu-like symptoms and accelerating rapidly to pneumonia.
Though scientists admit this virus may never jump to humans, but if it does, WIV1-CoV has the potential to seed a new outbreak with significant consequences for both public health and the global economy.
The researchers say the capacity of this group of viruses to jump into humans is greater than originally thought.
While other adaptations may be required to produce an epidemic, several viral strains circulating in bat populations have already overcome the barrier of replication in human cells and suggest reemergence as a distinct possibility.
In a study published on March 14, 2016, edition of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “SARS-like WIV1-CoV poised for human emergence” scientists reveal outbreaks from zoonotic sources represent a threat to both human as well as the global economy.
A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed between animals and humans.
The researchers led by Dr. Vineet Menachery of Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, is a team of U.S. and Swiss researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute-Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Bellinzona, Switzerland; and Institute of Microbiology, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich, Switzerland.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bat SARS-like coronavirus WIV1, (Bat SL-CoV-WIV1) also sometimes called SARS-like coronavirus WIV1 that is W1V1-CoV, is a newly identified CoV isolated from Chinese rufous horseshoe bats.
The discovery confirms that bats are the natural reservoir of the SARS virus. Phylogenetic analysis shows the possibility of direct transmission of SARS from bats to humans without the intermediary Chinese civets, as previously believed.
The new virus is very similar to SARS – as it originates from the same Chinese horseshoe bats as SARS and also binds to the same receptor inside the human body.
They also found that the virus ‘readily and efficiently’ replicated in cultured human airway tissues – which signified an ability to ‘jump directly to humans’.
In the study, the researchers say; “Focusing on the SARS-like viruses, the results indicate that the WIV1-coronavirus (CoV) cluster has the ability to directly infect and may undergo limited transmission in human populations. However, in vivo attenuation suggests additional adaptation is required for epidemic disease.”
“Importantly, available SARS monoclonal antibodies offered success in limiting viral infection absent from available vaccine approaches. Together, the data highlight the utility of a platform to identify and prioritize prepandemic strains harboured in animal reservoirs and document the threat posed by WIV1-CoV for emergence in human populations.”
While other adaptations may be required to produce an epidemic, several viral strains circulating in bat populations have already overcome the barrier of replication of human cells and suggest reemergence as a distinct possibility.
The team additionally determined that antibodies developed to treat SARS were effective in human and animal tissue samples against the new virus, suggesting a potent treatment option if an outbreak were to occur.
Treating WIV1-CoV however with antibodies could lead to the same problem that arose with ZMapp – the antibody therapy used for Ebola.
As with ZMapp, producing the WIV1-CoV antibodies at a large enough scale to treat many people may prove difficult, the scientists found.
Problematically, the scientists also noted that when it comes to prevention, existing SARS vaccines wouldn’t provide enough protection against the new virus.
That is because the new virus has slight differences in its viral sequence from SARS – which would render the SARS vaccine largely ineffective.