Scientists find new coronavirus commonly found in rodents

London: Swedish scientists have identified a novel coronavirus commonly found in red-backed voles — small, stocky rodents that resemble voles.

The study of about 260 voles captured around Grimso, in Sweden’s Orebro province, shows that the virus is well established in the red-backed voles, said the team at Uppsala University’s Zoonosis Science Center.

Their finding is published in the journal Viruses.

“Between 2015 and 2017, we consistently found what we have termed the ‘Grimso virus’ in 3.4 percent of these voles, which would indicate that the virus is widespread and common in Swedish voles,” says Ake Lundkvist, professor of virology and head of the Center.

The team mapped zoonotic viruses to increase understanding of the interaction between viruses and host animals.

Unlike the SARS-CoV and MERS coronaviruses that originate in bats, seasonal coronaviruses, such as HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1, appear to have spread to humans via rodents such as rats, mice and voles.

Using an RNA sequencing method, the team identified a novel coronavirus known as aGrimso virus, which belongs to the betacoronavirus family that also includes SARS-CoV, MERS and SARS-CoV-2.

Rodents already carry several zoonotic microorganisms, such as hantaviruses and tularemia, meaning they play a key role in the spread of infectious diseases.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in infectious diseases associated with small mammals, such as rodents, and research into the ecology of these host animals is a vital part of the work to prevent future outbreaks.

The vole (Myodes glareolus) is one of Europe’s most common rodents.

Previous studies have shown that several coronaviruses are circulating among animals in countries such as the UK, Poland, France and Germany.

“We still don’t know what potential threats the Grimso virus may pose to public health. However, based on our observations and previous coronaviruses identified among sand voles, there is good reason to continue monitoring the coronavirus among wild rodents,” Lundkvist said.

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