The #KhabarLive sources debunks claims of the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus that “kills 1 in 3” people. It’s hard for NeoCoV, found in bats, to infect human cells without mutation that’s yet to be detected occurring naturally.

Recent news reports by various leading news with misleading headlines and viral messages claim the discovery of a new strain of the coronavirus named ‘NeoCoV’. The reports also suggest that it “kills 1 in 3” people.

However, #KhabarLive sources has debunked this misinformation circulating on social media – neither is NeoCoV a ‘new’ virus nor is it a variant of COVID-19. Additionally, there have been no confirmed cases of NeoCoV in humans so far.

#KhabarLive sources went through the study that these reports were based on and didn’t find any evidence of the claims. Moreover, the study has not been peer-reviewed.

The study, conducted by Chinese scientists, ‘unexpectedly’ discovered that NeoCoV and its close relative, PDF-2180-CoV, could potentially use a human and bat Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor for entry. This means it has the potential to infect humans.

The study states that the possibility depends on its re-combinations or mutations. However, the mutation required to infect humans has not been detected in this specific coronavirus naturally, and there are no human cases of the virus, which has been known to the scientific community for a decade.

The study outlined the molecular mechanism used by the virus to infect host cells in bats and in human cells in the lab, and identified a potential mutation that would make it possible for the virus to bind to human receptors.

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This has led to some alarm in India, with the findings often misunderstood and the virus even being mistakenly categorised as a variant of SARS-CoV-2.

What is NeoCoV?

Despite the “neo” appellation, this isn’t a new or unknown virus. It was first identified in 2011 in a species of bat in South Africa called Neoromicia capensis, which led to the name of the virus. The virus was identified from bat fecal pellets, a common source for scientists to study viruses hosted by bats.

It was discovered in 2014 that NeoCoV is genetically 85 per cent similar to the MERS-CoV virus, making it the latter’s closest relative. In 2012, MERS-CoV had caused an epidemic with a fatality rate of 35 per cent.

There are four known types of coronaviruses: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta (different from the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2). Alphacoronaviruses and betacoronaviruses are the ones capable of causing infection in humans and other mammals, while the other two types have infected birds.

There are a total of seven human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV, and they are all either alpha or betacoronaviruses. NeoCoV is also a betacoronavirus.

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Bats — which have immune response adaptations that allow them to host a wide variety of thousands of viruses in their bodies — are the largest reservoir of mammalian coronaviruses. The origins of coronaviruses that infect humans can be traced back to their closest relatives in bats.

‘Virus Only Found in Bats’

What we do know about NeoCov:

  • – NeoCoV is not a new virus, it was first found in 2014.
  • – The virus is only found in bats and has not infected or killed a human being so far.
  • – The new study, which talks about the NeoCoV’s potential to infect humans, is not peer-reviewed.
  • – NeoCoV is not a new variant of COVID-19

The data published by news organisations were based on a report published by Russian news agency Sputnik which neither called NeoCoV a variant of COVID-19 nor did it say that the virus has a fatality rate of 33 percent (1 in 3).

The Sputnik report had said that since the NeoCov was closely related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV), it can potentially have a mortality rate similar to that of MERS.

The report added that the virus is not a new one and didn’t mention that it was a variant of COVID-19.

The Sputnik report also added a statement from the experts from the Vector Russian State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology who clarified that the variant’s risk to humans required further research.

What is the risk to humans?

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There are no known human cases of NeoCoV, and it has not spilled over into the human population. Reports calling it deadly to one in three people refer to the fatality rate of its closest relative, MERS.

When a coronavirus — or any virus — jumps from one species to another, it undergoes genetic mutations that allow it to transform into a different strain that’s capable of infecting the new species. It’s then given a different name.

Every day, there are hundreds of viruses and plenty of coronaviruses that are a few mutations away from potentially infecting humans. Typically, such spillover events occur within intermediate host animals like pigs or camels, where more favourable mutations are acquired that make it easier for viruses to jump into humans.

Bats are subject to active monitoring and genome sequencing for potential viruses, and have been since before the current pandemic. Identification of a potential mutation that could allow a virus to infect humans is important to understand risk.

Further investigation is warranted to understand how easily such a mutation could occur. To do this, researchers will study the potential for mutation through human cells in the lab, and how quickly other, similar, mutations occur in natural settings.

Until that is done, the risk to humans is not fully understood. There are hundreds of viruses that pose a risk to humans every day, but spillover events, or the jumping of a virus from one species to another, does not commonly occur on a daily basis. #KhabarLive #hydnews