NeoCoV scare: Should we be worried about this new variant?
We know very little about NeoCoV at the moment, except that the researchers from China have found it in bats, says experts adding that now is not the time to panic and spread misinformation
Mumbai: A team of researchers from the Wuhan University and Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing have alerted people about NeoCoV, a new type of coronavirus detected in bats.
In a paper published on the preprint repository bioRxiv, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers have stated that NeoCoV is a close relative of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and should be closely monitored as its mutated form can likely have the potential to infect humans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that further studies are required to ascertain NeoCoV’s threat to humans.
On Sunday, Maharashtra’s health minister Rajesh Tope also sounded an alarm about the new variant, even as the world is yet to identify a confirmed human case.
‘NO REASON TO PANIC’
Vellore-based virologist Dr T Jacob John informed that there’s no need to panic since bats and humans do not have a natural contact. “We should definitely monitor new variants, be guarded, but we should not panic unnecessarily. Bats and humans do not have a natural contact, and it is only in rare, extraordinary situations that such contact may happen,” said Dr John.
According to him, the Nipah virus, which had caused the 2018 outbreak in Kerala and the 1999 outbreaks in Malaysia and Singapore, has spread through the bats. “Researchers have confirmed three possible scenarios of the spread of Nipah- through contact of bat saliva on a half-eaten fruit by a bat and through the palm toddy containers where bats are found. In another situation, researchers have found that the Nipah virus jumped from bats to pigs and then to human beings,” he said, adding that it’s premature to assume that such transmission has occurred in the case of NeoCoV.
IS IT HYPE?
SARS-CoV-2 is known to bind with the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in human beings. But in their study, the researchers from China found that NeoCoV and another closely related virus PDF-2180-CoV used bat ACE2 as their functional receptor. “This unexpected ACE2 usage of these MERS-CoV close relatives highlights a latent biosafety risk, considering a combination of two potentially damaging features of high fatality observed for MERS-CoV and the high transmission rate noted for SARS-CoV-2,” the study pointed. “Furthermore, our studies show that the current COVID-19 vaccinations are inadequate to protect humans from any eventuality of the infections caused by these viruses.”
“NeoCoV is an old virus closely related to MERS-CoV which enters cells via DPP4 receptors (a type of receptor protein),” state’s Covid-19 task force member Dr Shashank Joshi said on social media.
“NeoCoV can use ACE2 receptors of bats but they can’t use human ACE2 receptors unless a new mutation occurs. Everything else is hype,” he said.
Infectious disease expert Dr Om Srivastava said that it’s best to leave the discussions till a human case has been found. “Till then, we should undoubtedly be cautious, but there is nothing to worry about,” he said. “We know very little about NeoCoV at the moment, except that the researchers from China have found it in bats. We don’t know if it has the capacity to jump onto humans or spread around the world. It’s just too soon to make assumptions,” he said.