Representational Image

(A. Prathap/BCCL)

The world collectively heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Director-General, stated that we were finally nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But researchers recently warned of another SARS-CoV-2-like virus found in Russian bats.

Dubbed the Khosta-2, this virus is capable of spilling over to humans and infecting us. And to make matters worse, it has been found to be resistant to all the existing COVID-19 vaccines.

There’s a lot about this virus that we don’t fully know. But before we begin to lose sleep over it, let’s take a look at what we do know about the Khosta-2.

Where was the Khosta-2 found?

A member of the coronavirus family, this sarbecovirus was discovered in the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) samples gathered near Russia’s Sochi National Park between March and October 2020. But the Russian government acknowledged its presence only recently, in May 2022.

It is a zoonotic virus, which means that it is capable of latching onto human cells the same way the COVID-19-causing coronavirus does.

How is it similar to the COVID-19 virus?

Khosta-2 can be detected by PCR on oral or nasal swabs. It possesses spike proteins and has been found to interact with the same entrance receptor as SARS-CoV-2.

Hundreds of such sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, predominantly in bats in Asia, and the majority are not capable of infecting human cells.

However, tests conducted as a part of the research showed that Khosta-2 could infect human cells in a near-identical manner as the COVID-19 virus. And while it isn’t as effective as the SARS-Cov-2, the jury is still out on whether it can spark an outbreak in humans.

How do COVID vaccines impact the Khosta-2?

Experiments were carried out to establish whether or not current COVID vaccinations are efficient in killing Khosta-2. According to the study, none of the human antibodies created by the vaccine could neutralise the virus. The virus appeared to be resistant to both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations after two doses.

Researchers also tested the serum from persons who had the Omicron variant against the Khosta-2, but the antibodies in them proved ineffective.

What else do we know about the nature and infectiousness of Khosta-2?

Khosta-2, like SARS-CoV-2, can infect cells by connecting to a receptor protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is distributed throughout human cells.

According to Michael Letko, corresponding author of the study, the novel virus lacks some of the genes thought to be crucial in human pathogenesis. However, there is a chance that Khosta-2 will recombine with another virus, such as SARS-CoV-2 — a phenomenon that could either be meaningless, or result in the virus becoming more infectious or virulent.

As of now, the virus has shown no signs of spilling over to humans. But if it did, the study’s authors have asserted that natural COVID-19 immunity may still be able to neutralise the virus.

The findings of this study have been detailed in PLOS Pathogens and can be accessed here.


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