London, June 4: Swedish scientists have identified a new coronavirus commonly found in red-backed voles -- small, stocky rodents similar to field mice.
The study of approximately 260 bank voles caught around Grimso, in Orebro County in Sweden shows that the virus is well established in the red-backed voles, said the team from the Zoonosis Science Center at Uppsala University.
Their finding has been published in the journal Viruses.
"Between 2015 and 2017, we consistently found what we have called the 'Grimso Virus' in 3.4 per cent of these voles, which would suggest that the virus is widespread and common in Sweden's bank voles," said Ake Lundkvist, Professor in virology and head of the Centre.
The team mapped zoonotic viruses to increase the 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 from rodents like rats, mice and voles.
Using an RNA sequencing method, the team identified a new coronavirus known as the aGrimso Virus' belonging 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 how infectious diseases are spread.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in infectious diseases that can be linked to small mammals, like rodents, and research around the ecology of these host animals is an essential component in the work to prevent future outbreaks.
The bank vole (Myodes glareolus) is one of Europe's most common rodents.
Previous studies have found several coronaviruses circulating amongst animals in countries like the UK, Poland, France and Germany.
"We still do not know what potential threats the Grimso 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," said Lundkvist.