PUNE: The coronavirus NeoCoV, described as a potential threat to humanity by Chinese researchers this week, poses no actual danger in its current form
PUNE: The coronavirus NeoCoV, described as a potential threat to humanity by Chinese researchers this week, poses no actual danger in its current form, top health experts TOI spoke to said.
The experts added that the virus, which uses bat ACE2 receptors, cannot bind to human ACE2 receptors unless it acquires a significant mutation.
The Chinese paper — yet to be peer-reviewed — had sparked considerable alarm, especially on social media.
State task force member Dr Shashank Joshi told TOI that NeoCoV is in fact an old virus (first identified in 2011 in bats) that is closely related to MERS CoV that uses DPP4 receptors to enter cells.
“NeoCOV can use ACE2 receptors of bats, but it cannot use human ACE2 receptors unless a new mutation occurs. Everything else that is being said about the virus is hype,” Dr Joshi said.
Vinod Scaria, principal scientist at Delhi-based CSIR-IGIB said zoonotic spillover — transmission of a virus from animals to humans — is a rare occurrence.
Coronavirus live updates
“The virus, in natural form, does not infect humans. And since it has not infected humans yet, it has not caused any deaths. NeoCoV is also not ‘new’; the virus has been known for years. NeoCoV cannot inherently bind to human ACE2 receptors, but artificial mutations can enhance binding. However, such mutations are not naturally found in NeoCoV.”
Scaria, however, said regular surveillance of human and animal viruses is key to understanding the spectrum of viruses and early warning measures about likely spillover events.
Virologist Dr Shahid Jameel said, “NeoCoV has been found in a kind of bat and is the closest so far in its genetic makeup to the MERS CoV that emerged in humans in 2012 via camels. MERS doesn’t infect and transmit between humans very well and requires very close contact with the animal. NeoCoV also binds well to bat ACE2 receptor but not human ACE2 receptor. So it’s unlikely to readily infect humans. ”
Dr Jameel, however, added that it is good to know there is something “out there with the potential to jump” in the future.
“That way we can be prepared. There are an estimated 3000-plus coronaviruses in bats. The more we know about them, the more we can be prepared for future spillovers,” he said. Dr San- jay Pujari from the ICMR National Task Force on Clinical Research for Covid-19 also said NeoCoV cannot yet infect humans.
“NeoCoV is closer to MERS-COV than SARSCoV-2 and believed to be one of the ancestral strains of MERS-CoV. It is distinct from MERS-CoV because of its ability to use the ACE-2 receptor in bats but not in humans. So in its present form, it has no ability to infect humans. There is no need to panic at present. There will be strengthening of surveillance and research efforts to monitor its evolution at a global level.”
Reports had also claimed NeoCoV may have a mortality rate of one in three infec- ted individuals. But a top scientist said that estimate likely came from the apparent mortality for MERS CoV, the closest (85% similar) to NeoCoV.
“The WHO itself has said that the mortality number for MERS is an overestimate. As per a WHO statement on MERS, approximately 35% of patients with MERS have died, but this may be an overestimate of the true mortality rate, as mild cases of MERS may have been missed by existing surveillance systems. Until more is known about the disease, the case fatality rates are counted only among the laboratory-confirmed cases,” the scientist said, quoting the WHO.