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The new coronavirus, named Sads-CoV, has been found to multiply in human lung cells, airway cells and intestinal cells. As a result, researchers have urged scientists to closely monitor the new disease, as it has been deemed a “potential high-risk that could affect global health”.
COVID-19, the current strain of coronavirus that has spread across the globe, is a zoonosis, which means it is a human disease of animal origin.
The current cause of COVID-19 is believed to be from either bats or pangolins, though the direct link has not yet been proven.
It is feared Sads-CoV could also become a zoonosis, and end up acquiring the ability to board human cells and multiply in them.
But currently the disease only affects pigs.
Sads-Cov, which stands for Swine Acute Diarrhoea Syndrome Coronavirus, has seen several outbreaks in China in recent years.
In pigs, this coronavirus, which was only discovered in 2016, causes severe diarrhoea, from which 90 percent of young piglets die.
Researchers believe this pathogen, like COVID-19, originally came from bats.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have investigated whether Sads-Cov could also affect humans.
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To do this, researchers infected various cell cultures of monkeys, cats, pigs and humans with the Sads-CoV virus and tested whether the pathogen can enter these cells and multiply in them.
They found that almost all cells were susceptible to the disease, including those of humans.
After just 48 hours, the researchers were able to detect active viruses in cell lines from the liver, intestines and stomach.
In another test, the pig coronavirus also multiplied in fresh cell samples from the human nasal mucosa, the airways and the lungs.
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Caitlin Edwards, who led the investigation said the research shows Sads-Cov could become a real threat to human populations.
She said: “These data demonstrate that the host spectrum of Sads-CoV is very broad and also includes humans.
“This is manifesting Sads-CoV as a potential high-risk coronavirus that could affect global health and the economy.”
So far, no cases of human infections have been identified in China.
But the ability of this pathogen to multiply in human cells suggests the disease could mutate and affect humans in the future.
As a result, Ms Edwards and her colleagues state: “Continuous monitoring of pigs is therefore critical.”
In the study, the antiviral remdesivir proved to be highly effective against Sads-CoV.
Therefore if the pig coronavirus does spread to humans, it is possible for the epidemic to be contained at an early stage.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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