New Pig Virus Can Potentially Infect Humans, Scientists Warn

The new research shows how the virus targets a specific receptor molecule

"Now we know that this new virus could go into cells of different species, including humans".

First discovered in pigs in China in 2012, the virus was originally not associated with disease, but was again detected in U.S. pigs in 2014 resulting in the animals having acute diarrhoea and vomiting with a number of fatalities.

Dr. Linda Saif, distinguished university professor at the Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine who co-authored the study, highlighted in a statement that the virus was found in various birds before it presented in pigs. The young pigs that are infected by the virus experience enormous vomiting and acute diarrhea which means that the disease can be considered as fatal.

The pathogen shows similarities to the deadly viruses responsible for Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) which together have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

According to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this new study shows how the virus targets specific receptor molecules on the cell surface in the airways and digestive tract.

The receptor works like a lock in the door, explains Scott Kenney, lead researcher and assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

So far during testing, the cultured cells showed that while human cells could be infected, it is also infected cells from cats and chickens, significant carriers of viruses which could potentially be easily transferred to humans.

"From that point, it's just a matter of whether it can replicate within the cells and cause disease in those animals and humans".

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However, Dr. Saif stressed that the virus has only infected cells of humans and other animals in a controlled laboratory setting. The Journal PNAS published the first study and the possibilities of the Virus online between the different species.

Before it was initially identified in 2012 in pigs from China, porcine deltacoronavirus (PDCoV) was only found in various birds. Since then, several other countries have detected the virus; however, no human cases have been documented. Scientists fear that a virus in pigs could cross the species barrier.

"This doesn't prove that this virus can infect and cause disease in these other species, but that's something we obviously want to know", she said.

Scientists at The Ohio State University and Utrecht University in the Netherlands were concerned about the possibility of the porcine deltacoronavirus infecting humans in the future.

In 2002 and 2003, a SARS outbreak that began in China was linked to more than 8,000 cases and 774 deaths in 37 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

A swine biosecurity specialist from the Iowa State University in Ames estimated that a tablespoon of manure infected with the virus could infect an entire herd of hogs.

The Mers virus is believed to have passed to humans from camels.

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