EcoHealth Alliance Announces Discovery of New Bat-Origin Virus Impacting Pig Farms in Southern China

NEW YORK – April 4, 2018 – EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, announced that–in collaboration with local partners–it has discovered a novel coronavirus in China called Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS-CoV). The virus has, so far, has caused the deaths of 24,693 piglets between 2016 and 2017 on several farms in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where the human pandemic SARS emerged in 2002.

Published today by the journal Nature, the virus’ discovery solves the mystery of mass pig die-offs on four farms in Guangdong Province. Particularly harmful to newborn piglets, SADS-CoV causes severe and acute diarrhea, acute vomiting, and eventually death due to rapid weight loss. It has a fatality rate as high as 90 percent for piglets five days or younger, but that drops in older pigs.

"This is a really unexpected finding: a brand new virus from the same bats that harbor SARS-like viruses, but this time causing a major outbreak in pig farms," Dr. Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance president and paper co-author, said. "This work highlights the value of going to emerging disease hotspots and doing surveillance in wildlife for novel viruses so we can stop them when they emerge, or even before. It’s a major success story for the USAID EPT/PREDICT project which is designed to do just that. It’s also the type of work that the Global Virome Project will tackle: finding these viruses before they cause damage."

Using genetic testing of samples collected as part of its work funded by USAID and NIAID, EcoHealth Alliance scientists determined that horseshoe bats are likely SADS-CoV’s natural reservoir. The virus’ genomic sequence is nearly identical to the virus HKU2-CoV, a bat coronavirus identified in 2007.

No humans have tested positive for SADS-CoV and, in lab work, the virus does not appear to be able to bind to human cells. However, the first SADS-CoV case occurred on a farm about 60 miles from the purported index case of SARS, a similar coronavirus. From 2002-2003, a SARS outbreak infected more than 8,000 people and killed more than 700, primarily in China. EcoHealth Alliance research from 2005 found that the horseshoe bat is also the natural reservoir for SARS.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance's rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
Press contact: Anthony Ramos, (212) 380-4469 or ramos@ecohealthalliance.org

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