What we know about a new coronavirus spreading in voles


Swedish researchers have identified a new coronavirus infecting a population of Swedish bank voles. The coronavirus belongs to the same group of viruses as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus. Experts say that cases of zoonotic transmission are rare, and the danger to humans from this coronavirus is low. Researchers from the Zoonosis Science Center of Uppsala University in Sweden have detected a previously unknown coronavirus in a group of bank voles from Grimsö, west of Stockholm, Sweden.

In a study announcing the discovery, its authors explain that about 3.4% of the voles sampled and tested for viruses have what the researchers have named the “Grimsö virus.”

They were first sampled in 2015 but authors suspect the virus has been present in the population of voles for longer. RNA sequencing revealed that the Grimsö virus belongs to the same family of betacoronaviruses as SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoVTrusted Source, and MERS-CoV. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, likely jumped from bats to humans, though its origin remains unconfirmed. Past seasonal coronaviruses HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 also likely jumped from rodents, such as mice, rats, and voles to humans, and in the case of HCoV-OC43, to cattle as well. Neither caused serious illness.

Prof. Dong-Yan Jin, who teaches molecular virology and oncology at the University of Hong Kong, and who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today: “Coronaviruses are severely understudied before the pandemic. It is not surprising to find new coronaviruses in other species. While we should do more research on animal coronaviruses, we have no reasons to worry.

There are thousands of new coronaviruses to be discovered in different species, and they have been there for hundreds or thousands of years.” “Surveillance and close monitoring are required for some of them, but we don’t need to panic or over-worry,” he added.

Heather Wells, Ph.D. student and member of the Anthony Lab investigating zoonotic viruses at the University of California, Davis, who was also not involved in the study, agreed.

“I would not say this virus is cause for alarm, as there is no evidence that the virus could infect humans, and it is not closely related to [other] embecoviruses known to cause human disease, like HKU1. That said, there is also not enough evidence to say with 100% certainty that it cannot infect humans, even if it is highly unlikely,” she told us.