Covid horror as NEW virus found among rodents in Sweden sparks concern — threat ‘unknown’

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As the COVID-19 pandemic made clear, novel coronaviruses can be found circulating animals like bats and pangolins. However, rodents like mice, rats and voles are also capable of carrying viruses. And many of these have the potential to make the jump to infecting humans.

In their study, virologist Professor Åke Lundkvist and his colleagues report the identification of a new betacoronavirus that is common and widespread among Sweden’s bank voles.

Betacoronaviruses are normally found among bats and rodents.

When these viruses jump over into humans they are responsible for conditions like the common cold and other respiratory infections similar in nature to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused Covid.

The team have named the new infectious agent the “Grimsö virus”, after the research station west of Stockholm at which the virus was first discovered between 2015 and 2017.

According to the researchers, the novel betacoronavirus was detected in 3.4 percent of the 266 bank voles captured and tested at the site.

Alpha- and beta coronaviruses have previously been detected in bank voles from the UK, Germany and Poland.

Moreover, over the three-year study period, the team found several different strains of Grimsö virus to be in circulation.

The fact the virus is highly divergent is concerning, as it suggests it can adapt easily to new hosts and habitats.

The different strains in circulation, the researchers said, could have originated in the bank voles, or alternatively have jumped over from another species.

At present, there is no evidence to suggest that the novel betacoronavirus has jumped over to humans.

Prof. Lundkvist said: “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.”

Bank voles are among the most common rodents in Europe — and are also hosts of the Puumala virus, which in humans can cause a “hemorrhagic fever” that affects various organ systems, damages the cardiovascular system and impairs bodily function.

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In bad weather, voles are known to seek shelter in buildings, bringing them into contact with humans and increasing the risk of transmitting viruses to our species.

The researchers wrote: “Our findings indicate that Grimsö virus might be circulating widely in bank voles.”

This fact, they added, highlights “the importance of sentinel surveillance of coronaviruses in wild small mammalian animals, especially in wild rodents.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Viruses.

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