Feed Bites

Coronavirus Part 1: The Basics

Written by: Sarah Novak   |   February 28, 2020


You can’t check your social media feed, turn on the TV or read a newspaper without a reference to the coronavirus. So, how does it impact the animal food industry? What do I need to know? This blog post is the first of a two-part blog series on the topic. Let’s start with the basics.



The Science:

Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a large family of viruses that can cause people or animals to get sick with symptoms ranging from those similar to the common cold to more severe diseases. A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not yet been identified in humans.

For the science geeks out there, coronaviruses were first described in detail in the 1960s. They got their name from a distinctive corona (or 'crown') of sugary-proteins that projects from the envelope surrounding the particle. The virus's make-up is the longest genome of any RNA-based virus – a single strand of nucleic acid is roughly 26,000 to 32,000 bases long.

CoVs are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. If you are a farmer or rancher, you have likely dealt with a CoV with your calves in the form of calf scours or pigs with viruses such as the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) or transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE).  

There are four known genuses in the CoV family, named Alphacoronavirus, Betacoronavirus, Gammacoronavirus and Deltacoronavirus. The first two only infect mammals, including bats, pigs, cats and humans. Gammacoronavirus mostly infects birds, such as poultry, while the Deltacoronavirus can infect both birds and mammals.

What are the symptoms of a CoV infection?

Coronaviruses can give rise to a variety of symptoms in different mammals and birds. While some strains can cause diarrhea in pigs, calves and turkeys, oftentimes, infections can be compared to that of a bad cold, causing mild to moderate upper respiratory problems, such as a runny nose and sore throat. In more severe cases, infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Are CoV and the African swine fever (ASF) virus related?

While both maladies are viruses and tied to recent outbreaks in China lately, that is where their similarities end. They are totally different viruses. ASF is a highly contagious hemorrhagic viral disease of domestic and wild pigs, which is responsible for serious economic and production losses, and is not a risk to human health. It is caused by a large, double-stranded DNA virus of the Asfarviridae family, which also infects ticks of the genus Ornithodoros. 

What is COVID-19?

The coronavirus that has been in the news lately is the Wuhan coronavirus, which authorities first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in December 2019. It was officially named COVID-19 by the Food and Agriculture Organization earlier this year.

The exact source of the outbreak is currently under investigation but the origin is believed to be linked to the Huanan South China Seafood Market, a seafood and live animal wet market in Wuhan. Although snakes were originally thought to be the potential source for the outbreak, some experts have deemed that unlikely, suspecting bats may be more likely instead based on the genetic RNA. The questions remain: was COVID-19 transmitted from bats to humans? Or, was there another mammal in between that spread the virus? As of February, the search for the animal origin of COVID-19 is ongoing.

Can COVID-19 infect pets and domestic animals?

Currently, there is no evidence that pets or other domesticated animals can be infected with COVID-19. In addition, there is no current evidence that pets or domestic animals were the source of human infections.

Why should feed manufacturers pay attention to this virus?

This is a rapidly evolving situation and information can change. As a matter of good practice for any disease prevention, if you have livestock or poultry or work in the animal food industry, we strongly recommend that you have a set of biosecurity procedures in place and continue to follow your plan. The American Feed Industry Association has long supported good biosecurity practices at animal food facilities through our guidance document.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where we dig into more details on how the continued spread of this coronavirus could impact the U.S. animal food industry.


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