The nightmare of coronavirus it seems to have no end. This week, researchers at the University of North Carolina in the United States found that a strain of a new type of coronavirus that affects pigs and can infect humans.
Called SADS-CoV (do not confuse with SARS-CoV-2), porcine coronavirus can be replicated efficiently in human liver and intestine cells, as well as cells in the airways. The effects of the disease on people are still unknown due to the lack of reported cases.
What is known so far is that it is an alpha-choronavirus of the same family as SARS-CoV-2, which causes breathing problems. In pigs, SADS-CoV is responsible for gastrointestinal complications, which generate symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. This can be deadly for the health of piglets.
This is a different virus than the one that has killed millions of animals in China and started to spread to the rest of the world. At the time, it was a virus, from the family Asfarviridae, which infects only pigs and wild boars, is not related to the coronavirus and does not reach humans. It also appears to be different from another that is also found in pigs and derived from H1N1.
“While many researchers focus on the emerging potential of beta-choronaviruses like SARS and MERS, alpha-choronaviruses can be equally worrying for human health,” said Ralph Baric, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Global Public Health.
The concern is that, even without cases registered so far, there is the possibility of the emergence of a new pandemic, as pointed out by the study by Caitlin Edwards, a research specialist and master’s student in public health at the University of North Carolina.
The research tested several types of cells and infected them with a synthetic form of SADS-CoV to understand how they would behave. The results indicate that a large number of mammalian cells, including humans, are susceptible to infection. They are cells mainly found in the lung and intestine.
“It is impossible to predict whether this virus could emerge and infect human populations. However, the wide range of SADS-CoV hosts, together with the ability to replicate in the primary human lung and enteric cells, demonstrates the potential risk for future emergency events in human and animal populations, ”says Edwards.
Is there a cure?
The researcher explains that herd immunity, which generally prevents humans from contracting new diseases found in animals, may not be an effective technique to prevent the spread of SADS-CoV, since there is still no immunity against the virus. As a result, Edwards and other scientists are studying ways to treat the possible infection.
One way out would be with the use of the antiviral remdesivir, used to fight all known coronaviruses and which was even used by President Donald Trump in a case of covid-19. The use of the drug has shown good results against SADS-CoV, but more tests are still lacking. The problem is that the medicine is not cheap at all.
“Promising data with remdesivir provides a potential treatment option in the event of a human overflow event,” said the researcher. “We recommend that both pig workers and the pig population be monitored continuously for indications of SADS-CoV infections to prevent outbreaks and massive economic losses.”