Washington DC: According to a new study, a SARS-like virus found in Chinese horseshoe bats may be poised to infect humans.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found that the newly identified virus, known as WIV1-CoV, could bind to the same receptors as SARS-CoV that infected thousands in 2002.They also showed that the virus readily and efficiently replicated in cultured human airway tissues, suggesting an ability to jump directly to humans.
The research, led by Ralph Baric, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, comes on the heels of two recent high-profile outbreaks, Ebola and Zika for which there are no vaccines. The two outbreaks combined claimed thousands of lives and cost billions in foregone economic growth.
Researcher Vineet Menachery said that the capacity of this group of viruses to jump into humans is greater than we originally thought, adding that 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.
He further said that 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 research team also found that antibodies developed to treat SARS were effective in both human and animal tissue samples against WIV1-CoV, providing a potent treatment option if there were an outbreak.
However, the limitation to treat with antibodies is the same as with ZMapp, the antibody approach used for Ebola: producing it at a large enough scale to treat many people.
Also, in terms of prevention, existing vaccines against SARS would not provide protection for this new virus due to slight differences in the viral sequence.
The study is published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.