In a recent study, scientists have detected at least six new strains of coronavirus in a population of bats found in Myanmar. As per the study published in a peer-review journal, Plos One, the novel viruses are capable of transmission from other species to humans and human-to-human transmission. These viruses belong to a similar family as the SARS-CoV-2 viruses that can cause COVID-19, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
As per reports, under a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) led program, known as PREDICT, the scientists gathered samples of the saliva and guano, the bat excreta, from 464 bats across 11 species. These samples were then tested for zoonotic diseases and viruses between May 2016 to August 2018.
The six new strains of coronavirus were detected in Linno Cave, the species of bats endemic to Myanmar that have an unusual lifestyle which makes them a natural reservoir of coronaviruses. As per reports, the findings revealed three novel alpha coronaviruses, three novel beta coronaviruses, and one known alphacoronavirus previously identified in other southeast Asian countries, but detected for the first time in bats.
Study to Prevent Future Pandemics
The research was conducted to link the 2002–2003 SARS epidemic, 2012 MERS outbreak and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with coronaviruses that originated in bats, causing public health concern and making the species pandemic potential, as per the published study.
“Bats are increasingly recognized as the natural reservoirs of viruses of public health concern”, the research mentioned. “The capacity of bats to carry and transmit zoonotic pathogens has been hypothesized to be due to their unique life-history traits, including their ability for sustained flight, the potential for long-distance dispersal, aggregation into densely populous colonies.”
The study further mentions, “Bats have been linked to highly pathogenic viruses that pose a serious threat to human health, including the coronaviruses, the hemorrhagic Ebola and Marburg filoviruses, and paramyxoviruses such as Nipah virus.”
Suzan Murray, the director of Smithsonian’s Global Health Program and co-author of the study, said in a statement that while many coronaviruses may not pose a risk to people, the findings are significant as the surveillance and research to identify the diseases provided an opportunity to recognise potential threats on human health and prevent pandemic outbreaks ahead in time.