Bats in Laos Host Closest Relative to Covid Virus

Bats from Laos found with virus similar to Covid-19

Newly-discovered coronaviruses found among bats in Laos and southern China show unprecedented similarities to the virus that causes Covid-19.

The recent discovery of coronaviruses in bats that bear remarkable similarity to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — could support the theory that the pandemic originated in limestone caves in Laos or southern China.

The coronaviruses found in the bats may have the same potential to infect humans as the early strains of Covid-19.

Researchers have conducted studies of various animals, including bats and pangolins, in an attempt to discover the origin of the Covid-19 virus as well as species that may act as intermediate hosts.

According to the scientific journal, Nature, virologist Marc Eloit, Head of the Pathogen Discovery Laboratory at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and colleagues analyzed some 645 individual bats found living in the limestone caves of northern Laos.

According to the team, bats used in the study comprised 46 distinct species belonging to six families.

Three viruses were discovered circulating in bat populations that looked to be “quite closely related” to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

“The existence of these viruses discovered in the bat animal reservoir backs up the theory that SARS-CoV-2 may originate from bats living in the vast karst highlands in the Indochina peninsula, which stretches across Laos, Vietnam, and China,” said Prof. Marc Eloit, adding that the result suggested that “other related viruses could represent a risk for human health.”

Observations made by the scientists have led them to note that these three coronaviruses are able to enter human cells by making use of the same receptor as SARS-CoV-2.

The three previously unknown viruses have been designated BANAL-103, BANAL-236, and BANAL-52.

Meanwhile, the discovery of the novel coronaviruses in bats adds credence to the notion that the coronavirus that caused the pandemic originated in animals.

Authors noted in the study are affiliated with the Institut Pasteur du Laos, in Vientiane, Laos.