Another strain of coronavirus has the potential to spread from pigs to humans, a new study has warned.
SADS-CoV has been infecting pigs in China since 2016 causing the animals to suffer from severe diarrhoea and vomiting.
Part of the same family as SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus currently wreaking havoc across much of the world – scientists have now discovered it’s possible for the strain to infect humans as well.
The virus can replicate itself within the human airway, liver and intestinal cells, researchers from the University of North Carolina found.
But it remains more of a risk to pigs and the pork industry and could cause severe economic damage to countries which export a lot of meat.
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SADS-CoV is an ‘alphacoronavirus’, while SARS-CoV-2 is a ‘betacoronavirus’ and epidemiologists working on the study said these strains of the virus are under-investigated.
Paper author Ralph Baric said: ‘Many investigators focus on the emergent potential of the betacoronaviruses like SARS and MERS.
‘Actually the alphacoronaviruses may prove equally prominent — if not greater — concerns to human health, given their potential to rapidly jump between species.’
Professor Baric and colleagues infected synthetic cells with the coronavirus and found it could replicate itself and spread.
Cells mimicking those found in the human lung and intestine were most susceptible.
They also found humans do not have the immunity that prevents some coronaviruses from spreading from animal populations.
Another of the authors, Caitlin Edwards, said it was ‘impossible to predict’ whether the virus will infect human populations.
She said: ‘However, the broad host range of SADS-CoV, coupled with an ability to replicate in primary human lung and enteric cells, demonstrates potential risk for future emergence events in human and animal populations.’
The study also looked at the potential for possible treatments, should the virus ‘spillover’ into humans.
The antiviral remdesivir – which has been used to treat Covid-19 patients including Donald Trump – could be effective, according to the preliminary reports but more tests will be needed.
Ms Edwards said: ‘We recommend that both swine workers and the swine population be continually monitored for indications of SADS-CoV infections to prevent outbreaks and massive economic losses.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Pig populations are also under threat from another disease, African Swine Fever, which has spread to parts of Europe.
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