Coronavirus, a word quite familiar to the global swine industry as transmissible gastroenteritis virus, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and porcine deltacorona virus are all coronaviruses that do impact pig health. However, Heather Fowler, director of producer and public health at National Pork Board, says there is no evidence that pigs or pork are involved in the current novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China.
"Similar to SARS and MERS, there is a suspicion that COVID-19 originated in bats and maybe has an animal intermediate, such as a pangolin (scaly anteater)," Fowler says. "From the perspective of how the disease has spread it has primarily been person to person. There is no evidence of pets, domestic species or even wildlife in the United States playing any role in the disease transmission."
Unlike African swine fever, which has DNA genomes, coronaviruses have RNA genomes which allow the virus to mutate and change similar to influenza viruses.
Linda Saif, virologist and distinguished professor in the Food Animal Health Research Program at The Ohio State University, says this is how coronaviruses acquire the ability to infect different tissues and to infect different species of animals.
Most animal coronaviruses infect the intestinal or respiratory tracts and cause diarrhea or respiratory disease. Saif says the best examples of coronaviruses that infect the gut and cause diarrhea and deaths in pigs are PEDV and PDCoV that first emerged in the United States in 2013-14 and are still present in pigs. These viruses are members of two different groups of coronaviruses — alpha and delta CoV. Saif explains they are genetically distinct and do not cross-protect against one another.
SARS-CoV-2 is part of a third distinct group of coronaviruses (beta CoV) and is genetically and antigenically distinct from these two swine coronaviruses, she adds.
"They are most closely related in the coronavirus family tree, like a first cousin of the SARS-CoV that infected humans in China in 2002-03 and was from a bat origin," Saif explains. "SARS-CoV-2 is also thought to be a descendant of a bat CoV but there may be other animal hosts, most likely another wild animal that was in the seafood and wild animal market in Wuhan China where this virus originated."
However, Fowler says out of an abundance of caution the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending individuals sick with COVID-19 limit contact with pets and other animals.
Finally, Fowler reiterates there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be spread through food or food packaging.
"It's important to keep that in mind and again link to the CDC, USDA as well as FAO that have those statements clearly stated on their websites," Fowler says.