Fears new pig virus could spread to humans


A newly identified pig virus which causes lethal diarrhoea and vomiting could infect human populations and kill, experts have warned.

New Lab tests showed that the pig virus, porcine deltacoronavirus, first detected in China in 2012, readily ‘jumps’ to human cells.

The researchers warn that the virus shows similarities to the virus behind Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which made the leap to humans from bats in 2002.

Professor Linda Saif, who took part in the US study at Ohio State University, said: “We’re very concerned about emerging coronaviruses and worry about the harm they can do to animals and their potential to jump to humans.”

A newly identified pig virus which causes lethal diarrhoea and vomiting could infect human populations and kill, experts have warned. Source: Getty Images / Stock image

When first identified in pigs in China, porcine deltacoronavirus was not associated with disease.

Then in 2014 it was found to be the cause of a diarrhoea outbreak among pigs in Ohio, US. Since then the virus has shown up in pigs in various countries.

Young infected pigs experience acute diarrhoea and vomiting and may die.

The new research, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how the virus targets a specific receptor molecule on the surface of cells lining the airways and digestive tract.

Locking onto the receptor, a multifunctional enzyme called aminopeptidase N allows the virus to gain access to its host.

In the laboratory the virus bound to the receptor not only in pigs, as expected, but also chickens, cats and humans.

Lead researcher Dr Scott Kenney, from Ohio State University’s Food Animal Health Research Programme, 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.”