Researchers have found a rat-borne variant of Covid circulating among rodents in New York City sewage as experts begin to warn that the virus is circulating in wildlife.
- Researchers think rats could potentially shape the next variant of Covid
- Amino acid changes found in an unknown strain of Covid in New York indicate it infected rats.
- There have been no reports of cases of Covid infection in wild rats, but researchers cannot rule it out.
- Experts warn that the virus could mutate in the animal kingdom and then return to re-infect humans.
New York City’s infamous rats may be more than just the city’s dubious landmark. Some experts fear they are the source of a new Covid variant.
The team, made up of researchers from Texas A&M-San Antonio and Queensborough Community College in New York City, believes an unknown strain of the virus found in city sewage could be transmitted by rats.
This strain has amino acid changes that appear to be compatible with strains of the virus carried by rats in the past, noted one researcher who started his theory.
Finding Covid in wild animals is a worrying prospect, as it means it could circulate undetected indefinitely and possibly return to humans in a new, unrecognizable form.
For example, white-tailed deer are thought to be easily infected with the virus, putting virologists on high alert.
Researchers have found evidence in a mysterious strain of Covid that it has previously infected rats, meaning the virus may have entered the rodent community (file photo)
“We propose several hypotheses for the anomalous presence of these lineages, including the possibility that these lineages originated from unexplored human COVID-19 infections or that they indicate the presence of a non-human animal reservoir,” the researchers wrote in their study, published last week by Nature. .
The researchers told Curbed that one of the team members collected rat poop samples for this experiment by simply wandering down dark alleys and collecting whatever they found.
Researchers believe the rats contracted the virus by drinking sewer water and eating the feces of humans and other animals.
“They probably drink sewer water and I heard they eat feces, so if there are any clumps of material in the wastewater, I’m sure they might try to consume it,” said John Dennehy, study co-author and virologist. . in Queensborough said.
“We have never found a live virus in sewage. But given the volume of sewage and the number of rats, it is possible that they became infected in this way.”
While they can still only make predictions, the team believes rodents living in the Big Apple could be the source of the next strain of Covid.
This may seem harmless to humans, since most people are happy to distance themselves from rats anyway, it still poses a serious threat.
Dr. Chris Thompson, an associate professor of biology at Loyola University in Maryland, told DailyMail.com that every time the virus enters the animal kingdom, it could pose an increased risk to humans.
For example, experts have found cases of Covid in white-tailed deer, meaning that humans already have evidence that the virus can be transmitted between species.
“The problem with infecting white-tailed deer or any other organism is that now we have increased the population of unvaccinated people,” he said.
“Now we have a whole bunch of unvaccinated deer that can spread the virus, which can lead to new virus mutations and eventually back into society.”
The situation becomes especially worrying when the virus enters animals such as bats, birds and pigs, which have shown the ability to then transmit the virus back to humans.
The prevailing theory for the original Wuhan strain of the virus is that it originated in an urban bat population before eventually being transmitted to humans.
If the virus gets back into the human population from the animal kingdom, it may have mutated enough that the global Covid knowledge bank may be out of date.
“These coronaviruses are amazing. Biologically, they’re really fascinating in that they can infect so many different species,” Thompson said.