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News Article

Fatal pig disease outbreak in China linked to coronavirus from bats

Virus identified in same region, from same bats as SARS coronavirus

A newly identified coronavirus that killed nearly 25,000 piglets in 2016-17 in China emerged from horseshoe bats near the origin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which emerged in 2002 in the same bat species. The new virus is named swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV). It does not appear to infect humans, unlike the SARS-CoV which infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774. No SARS-CoV cases have been identified since 2004.

The study investigators identified SADS-CoV on four pig farms in China’s Guangdong Province. The work was a collaboration among scientists from EcoHealth Alliance, Duke-NUS Medical School, Wuhan Institute of Virology and other organizations, and was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The findings have been published in Nature.

SADS-CoV began killing piglets on a farm near Foshan in Guangdong Province in late October 2016. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) was initially suspected as the cause.  PEDV is a coronavirus common to swine that had been identified at the Foshan farm. Although detection of PEDV ceased by mid-January 2017, piglets continued to die, suggesting a different cause. Researchers say that separating sick sows and piglets from the rest of the herd helped stop the outbreak of SADS-CoV by May 2017.

Investigators identified the new virus in the small intestine of piglets from the outbreak. They then determined that the genetic sequence of SADS-CoV is similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered in 2007 and looked for evidence of SADS-CoV in bat specimens, predominantly in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp.), collected from 2013 to 2016 in Guangdong Province. The new virus appeared in 71 of 596 specimens (11.9 percent).

Some 35 farm workers who had close contact with sick pigs, were also tested, none of whom tested positive for SADS-CoV.

Currently six coronaviruses are known to cause disease in humans, but so far only two of them — SARS-CoV and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus — have caused large outbreaks of fatal illness in humans.

According to the researchers, the findings “highlight the importance of identifying coronavirus diversity and distribution in bats to mitigate future outbreaks that could threaten livestock, public health and economic growth”.

Fatal swine acute diarrhea syndrome caused by an HKU2-related coronavirus of bat origin. Zhou, P. et al. Nature (2018) published online 4 April 2018, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0010-9

Article details

  • Date
  • 09 April 2018
  • Source
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disea
  • Subject(s)
  • Food Animals