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Swine Coronavirus Could Jump to People, Researchers Warn

MONDAY, Oct. 19, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A coronavirus strain that has plagued the swine industry in recent years may have the ability to spread to people, researchers say.

Swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV) has infected swine herds throughout China since its discovery in 2016, according to a new report.

In lab tests, scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill showed that SADS-CoV can replicate in human liver, gut and airway cells.

While in the same family as the betacoronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 in people, SADS-CoV is an alphacoronavirus that causes gastrointestinal illness (severe diarrhea and vomiting) in swine. It's especially deadly to young piglets.

SADS-CoV is also distinct from two common cold alphacoronaviruses in humans, HCoV-229E and HCoV-NL63, the study authors explained.

"While many investigators focus on the emergent potential of the betacoronaviruses like SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome], actually the alphacoronaviruses may prove equally prominent -- if not greater -- concerns to human health, given their potential to rapidly jump between species," study co-author Ralph Baric said in a UNC news release. He's a professor of epidemiology at the university's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder that many coronavirus strains that afflict animals have the potential to transfer to humans, the researchers noted.

According to study co-author Caitlin Edwards, "SADS-CoV is derived from bat coronaviruses called HKU2, which is a heterogenous group of viruses with a worldwide distribution." Edwards is a research specialist and master of public health student at UNC.

"It is impossible to predict if this virus, or a closely related HKU2 bat strain, could emerge and infect human populations," Edwards added. "However, the broad host range of SADS-CoV, coupled with an ability to replicate in primary human lung and enteric [gastrointestinal] cells, demonstrates potential risk for future emergence events in human and animal populations."

The findings were published online Oct. 12 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has more on coronaviruses.

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