A team of scientists in Sweden has found a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 which is usually prevalent in red-backed voles. These small creatures belong to the rodent family and look similar to field mice. According to reports, the researchers caught around 260 bank voles caught around Grimso in Orebro County in Sweden and the analysis proved that the virus is found in the creatures. The findings of the study have been published in the journal Viruses.
“Between 2015 and 2017, we consistently found what we have callled the ‘Grimso Virus’ in 3.4 percent of these voles, which would suggest that the virus is widespread and common in Sweden’s bank voles,” said Ake Lundkvist, Professor in virology and head of the Centre.
While conducting the study, the team mapped zoonotic viruses to increase the understanding of the interaction between viruses and host animals. However, unlike the SARS-CoV and MERS coronaviruses that originate in bats, seasonal coronaviruses, such as HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1, appear to have spread to humans from rodents like rats, mice and voles, as per the scientists.
The researcher used an RNA sequencing method and identified a new coronavirus known as the aGrimso Virus’ which belongs to the betacoronavirus family that also includes SARS-CoV, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2. The scientists also revealed that rodents already carry several zoonotic microorganisms, such as Hantaviruses and Tularemia. This means that they hav a crucial role in how infectious diseases are spread.
The team of researchers also revealed that in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in infectious diseases that can be linked to small mammals, like rodents, and research around the ecology of these host animals is an essential component in the work to prevent future outbreaks. The bank vole (Myodes glareolus) is one of Europe’s most common rodents.
“We still do not know what potential threats the Grimso Virus may pose to public health. However, based on our observations and previous coronaviruses identified among bank voles, there is good reason to continue monitoring the coronavirus amongst wild rodents,” said Lundkvist.