A team of researchers based at the Zoonosis Science Centre, Uppsala University in Sweden, have identified a new coronavirus in bank voles (Myodes glareolus), according to a study published in the journal Viruses.
Researchers already know that many species of rodents carry several viruses, such as Hantaviruses and Tularemia. This means they play a crucial role in how infectious diseases are spread between animals and humans. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in infectious diseases that can be traced back to small mammals, like rodents. For this reason, research about these host animals and how the disease develops is essential to prevent future outbreaks.
The aim of the study was to assess the incidence of zoonotic viruses to increase our understanding of the interaction between viruses and hosts. Unlike the SARS-CoV and MERS viruses that originate in bats, other coronaviruses, including HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1, can spread from rodents, like rats, mice, and voles, to humans. In the future, researchers are also keen to develop methods to limit major virus outbreaks and avoid infection spreading from animals to humans.
To address these issues, the Swedish team caught over 250 bank voles — around the Grimsö, Örebro County, for analysis. Using RNA sequencing, they identified a new coronavirus which they named ‘Grimsö Virus.’ The new virus belongs to the betacoronavirus family, that also includes SARS-CoV, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2. Preliminary analyses suggest that multiple strains circulate in this population, although further investigation will be necessary to fully understand how the disease is transmitted amongst animals.
“Between 2015 and 2017, we consistently found what we have called the ‘Grimsö Virus’ in 3.4 percent of these voles, which would suggest that the virus is widespread and common in Sweden’s bank voles,” said Åke Lundkvist, Professor in virology and head of the Zoonosis Science Center at Uppsala University.
The team found that closely related coronaviruses are exclusively associated with bank voles and other vole species, indicating that bank voles are likely natural reservoirs of the Grimso virus. While the potential threat posed by this virus is unknown, the authors are keen to highlight the importance of surveillance of CoVs in wild rodents in advancing current knowledge on the ecology of CoVs in reservoir populations. “We still do not know what potential threats the Grimsö 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 Professor Lundkvist.
Wasberg A, Raghwani J, Li J, Pettersson J, Lindahl J, Lundkvist Å, Ling J (2022) Discovery of a Novel Coronavirus in Swedish Bank Voles (Myodes glareolus). Viruses, 14, 1205. https://doi.org/10.3390/v14061205