A New Coronavirus Has Been Found Spreading Among Rodents in Sweden

New coronaviruses aren't just found in bats and pangolins. Rodents such as rats, mice, and voles can carry viruses that can infect humans.

Researchers have discovered an ubiquitous and prevalent coronavirus in Sweden's red-backed bank voles (Myodes glareolus), which they have named the Grimsö virus after the town where it was discovered.

We don't know if the newly discovered virus is harmful to humans; nonetheless, the findings serve as a reminder of the need of monitoring wildlife viruses, particularly those carried by animals that live in close proximity to humans.

"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," Virologist ke Lundkvist of Uppsala University in Sweden believes so.

Bank voles are among Europe's most common rodents. They are recognized hosts of the Puumala virus, which produces a hemorrhagic fever in humans known as nephropathia epidemica.

Voles are known to seek shelter in human structures during inclement weather, increasing the chance of humans catching a sickness they bring into our homes.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lundkvist and his colleagues were attempting to keep track of wildlife sickness in voles to see when their viruses may spread. Given the persistent speed of climate change and habitat degradation, human contacts with voles are likely to become much more frequent in the future.

Between 2015 and 2017, Uppsala University researchers studied 450 wild bank voles from Grimsö, a location west of Stockholm. The scientists discovered a novel betacoronavirus circulating in 3.4 percent of the sample when they tested the critters for coronaviruses.

Betacoronaviruses are most often found in bats and rodents, and when they infect people, they cause the common cold and respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

Although the new vole virus has not yet been detected in people, COVID-19 has taught us that greater animal disease surveillance is necessary to prevent subsequent outbreaks.

Researchers in Sweden discovered numerous different viral strains of the Grimsö virus spreading throughout bank vole populations over the period of three years.

Furthermore, additional closely related coronaviruses were widely disseminated among voles in various countries of Europe, such as France, Germany, and Poland, suggesting that these animals are natural disease reservoirs.

The Grimsö virus's extremely diverse nature is a worrisome omen. It suggests that the virus is adaptable to new hosts and environments.

The numerous strains seen in circulation may have originated in bank voles or have crossed across from another species.

"Given that bank voles are one of the most common rodent species in Sweden and Europe, our findings indicate that Grimsö virus might be circulating widely in bank voles and further point out the importance of sentinel surveillance of coronaviruses in wild small mammalian animals, especially in wild rodents," the authors write.  

Human exploitation of natural places, according to other recent research, has raised the likelihood of animal sickness spreading to people. This danger was particularly apparent in creatures like bats, rats, and monkeys, which have large numbers and have adapted well to human circumstances.

While rodents and bats have long been thought to be disease vectors, they aren't the only creatures that infectious disease experts must keep a watch on.

Larger species, like as wild deer, are also in close touch with human civilization, and around 40% of deer in the northeastern United States have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

The COVID-19 pandemic has included livestock, such as mink, and experts are concerned that the virus might evolve among these animal hosts and infect humans with a new strain of the illness in the future.

As a result of the anxiety, millions of farmed mink were slaughtered as a precaution. However, annihilating entire animal populations is not completely acceptable approach, especially in the wild. More ecological turmoil will only help to further imbalance ecosystems, putting more animals under stress and increasing viral possibilities. As a result, better surveillance will be crucial.

We might be luring new coronaviruses straight into our homes if harsh weather and habitat loss get worse in the future.