Why Scientists Are Concerned About a Pig Virus?

Scientists have issued a warning about a strain of pig virus that they say has similarities to SARS and one they believe could pass to humans. Here’s what you need to know.

Researchers publishing this month in the science journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” show that the virus porcine deltacoronavirus (PDCoV) has many of the features that mean it could be able to jump from just affecting pig health to other animals.

“We’re very concerned about emerging coronaviruses and worry about the harm they can do to animals and their potential to jump to humans,” researcher Dr. Linda Saif, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), is quoted as saying.

The researchers in this study looked at what are known as cell receptors. In order to be a threat to a species of animal, certain conditions have to be met for a virus to take hold and replicate. One of those is being able to find a cell receptor to latch onto.

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind on PDCoV, the researchers looked at a cell receptor known as aminopeptidase N. This enzyme plays a key role in human organ function.

What the researchers found was that PDCoV has the ability to latch on to aminopeptidase N in chickens, cats and humans.

This was under lab test conditions, so the results don’t necessarily translate into real-world settings, but this indicates the virus could potentially spread to humans if all the right conditions are met.

Where did PDCoV come from?

The virus was first detected among pigs in Hong Kong, China in 2012. A closely related version of the virus was later detected in pigs in Iowa, USA in 2014. The US strain actuallyn appears to mirror one found in South Korea, and this speaks to how far the virus has now spread

When the virus was first discovered, it wasn’t linked to any specific disease. However, scientists eventually found that the virus links with young pigs developing severe diarrhea and gastroenteritis symptoms. These pigs will then dehydrate and may die.

At the moment, a lot is still unknown about PDCoV, because it is a relatively newly-discovered virus. For one thing, we don’t fully know how it is transmitted.

We do know that fecal matter from infected pigs can spread the virus. As a result, the virus and other similar viruses can be spread via farm equipment and farm personnel. However, there is some research to suggest that the virus may also be transmitted through contaminated pig feed, particularly soybean meal.

It is still unclear how the virus made the jump from Asia to the Americas, and that is a key area for research.

Do we need to be concerned about PDCoV?

This latest study is concerning, but as yet it does not show that the virus will jump to humans, only that it appears to have one of the necessary features in order to do so.

It is reasonable to redouble our efforts to look at how we could combat PDCoV. It is particularly relevant given that, as the researchers point out here, we know PDCoV has been found among certain birds, even before it was detected among pigs. This demonstrates that it is a virus that has made this leap before and may do so again.

However, other research has shown that the severity of PDCoV is still in question. That’s because it tends to develop alongside other similar infections, and as a result we have only a limited amount of data to really understand how potent PDCoV is on its own terms.

Understanding this will tell us if the virus really is another SARS- or MERS-like virus, as many in the media are billing it, or whether its threat level is more modest. It may actually turn out that the virus doesn’t produce symptoms of disease in humans at all.

Getting high quality data will be crucial to knowing just how to handle PDCoV and other viruses that might cross the biological divide between pigs and us. More data will also tell us whether or not they will actually pose a serious threat or whether they will be just a mild-to-moderate stomach upset that for most people does not require medical attention.

In the meantime, researcher Doctor Scott Kenney has said the general public should not panic. ”Right now normal people don’t have to change any aspects of their daily lives, no human outbreak is imminent that we can see. This virus has been around since at least 2012 and we haven’t seen any deaths from transmission to humans.”

What Saif, Keneey and team do appear to be saying, though, is that PDCoV and other coronaviruses are worth our attention, sooner rather than later.

Related at Care2


Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Cindy S
Cindy S19 days ago

hope people get it and die

Winn A
Winnie Aabout a month ago


Terri S
Terri Sabout a month ago

I could care less about the potential to spread to humans. I just hope the pigs don't suffer!!!

heather g
heather gabout a month ago

You get 'em you sweet piggies !

Angela J
Angela Jabout a month ago


Alea C
Alea Cabout a month ago

Stop eating pigs and you won't have to worry. It's also the moral thing to do, as these pigs don't want to suffer and die horrible deaths for your taste buds.

Cathy B
Cathy Babout a month ago

Thank you.

Anne M
Anne Moranabout a month ago

One more reason not to eat pork.. ughhh...

Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

Good it will serve us right!

Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a month ago

Can you spell z-o-o-n-o-t-i-c-s?