Coronavirus. A word that has now become a household term around the globe as the virus continues to spread across the human population in China and beyond. More than 1,300 people have died due to COVID-19 and more than 64,000 have become ill. But it's a word that is no stranger to the worldwide swine population.
However, Paul Sundberg says it is important to clarify that pigs have not been implicated in spreading the current case of COVID-19 or the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) in 2003 that affected humans. Both cases most likely stemmed from bats and that spread could have happened in local markets in China, where domestic and wild animals are present. But Sundberg says he doesn't see that type of market going away anytime soon.
"It may be a very difficult thing and it may even be a generational effort to do that rather than them saying, 'Ok, everything's going to stop as of this date,'" says the executive director of the Swine Health Information Center. "I don't know the answer to that really, but my sense is from talking to people that have been in China and working in China, in my being there and observing things that happen, I think that stopping those types of markets to try to stop animal or person pathogens, it might be very difficult to do in that culture."
Sundberg says coronaviruses in general are very adaptable.
"They can jump from species to species and certainly that's been the U.S. pork experience with coronaviruses," he says. "TGE [transmissible gastroenteritis virus] is a coronavirus. Then in 2013, we got PEDV [porcine epidemic diarrhea virus], which is another one and deltacorona virus is the third. There's another coronavirus in China right now, called Severe Acute Diarrhea Syndrome or SADS-CoV, that we are watching and developing a diagnostic test, to make sure that we can find it should it get here."
Sundberg keeps an eye out for emerging diseases internationally and says this new coronavirus in Chinese swine herds caught his attention.
"It's been found to be implicated in piglet scours over there, just like the other viruses but it's a different one," Sundberg says. "They had PED and PDCoV so we want to make sure that we have the right diagnostics and one of the objectives from Swine Health Information Center is to be prepared. One of the things that we're working on right now is the PCR test to find SADS-CoV, if it should get here. We want to make sure that we can find it as quickly as possible."
One of the issues SHIC has been working on is trying to get a diagnostic test that detects possible coronaviruses in U.S. pig herds. While TGE used to be the prevalent coronavirus in the U.S. industry, at the moment very few herds are breaking with that particular coronavirus, according to the latest information from SHIC's Swine Disease Reporting System. In the last report, Feb. 4, there were two positive TGE tests out of more than 3,000 runs.
"One of the things that was asked for in the diagnostic tests for this new coronavirus was to put it into a multiplex type of assay," Sundberg says. "For example, we could save producers money and lab time, if we put together this new coronavirus test with PED and deltacorona and look at those coronaviruses three at a time instead of each individual and separately."