Pig virus poses potentially lethal threat to humans, scientists warn

Study shows newly discovered Sars-like disease can jump between cells of different species

pigs at US farm
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images )

A recently identified lethal virus that occurs mainly in pigs may also pose a threat to humans, new research has suggested.

Laboratory tests at Ohio State University show that the disease, known as porcine deltacoronavirus, “readily jumps between the cells of different species including humans”, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The virus was first identified in pigs in China six years. It was then found to be the cause of a diarrhoea outbreak among pigs in Ohio in 2014, followed by reports of more cases in other countries. “Young infected pigs experience acute diarrhoea and vomiting and may die,” according to BT News.

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The pathogen shows similarities to Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which have killed a total of at least 1,000 people worldwide since being discovered in 2012 and 2002 respectively.

“We’re very concerned about emerging coronaviruses and worry about the harm they can do to animals and their potential to jump to humans,” said Professor Linda Saif, a co-author of the research report, published yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that the virus has the ability to target a specific receptor molecule on the surface of cells within the digestive tract, and can bind to this receptor in chickens, cats and humans.

Lead researcher Dr Scott Kenney said: “A receptor is like a lock in the door. If the virus can pick the lock, it can get into the cell and potentially infect the host.

“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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