New Research Says Pigs, Chickens Are Not Susceptible to COVID-19

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML ( NIAID-RML )

Research from the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Germany shows that pigs and chickens are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans). 

Dave Pyburn, chief veterinarian of the National Pork Board, says this is promising news for the U.S. pork industry.  

“I have seen the results so far of two studies – one that came out of China and this study from Germany,” Pyburn says. “In both cases, they tried to infect pigs and they could not infect pigs with the virus.”

The Friedrich Loeffler Institute started a few weeks ago with infection studies in pigs, chickens, fruit bats and ferrets. Initial results show that fruit bats and ferrets are susceptible to a SARS-CoV-2 infection, but pigs and chickens are not. 

In particular, the susceptibility of ferrets is an important finding, since they could be used as model animals for human infection to test vaccines or medicines, the release said.

The researchers discovered that ferrets can be infected efficiently with SARS-CoV-2, they can multiply the virus well and transmit it to fellow species. The virus resided and multiplied mainly in the upper areas of the respiratory tract but the infected animals showed no symptoms of disease. 

They examined whether pigs and chickens can be infected, multiply the pathogen and show symptoms of the disease. Tests were also performed to determine whether pigs and chickens could excrete the pathogen, posing a potential risk to humans. Under the test conditions, neither pigs nor chickens were found to be susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2. 

“According to the current state of knowledge, they are not affected by the virus and therefore do not pose any potential risk to humans,” the release said.

Pyburn says more studies are going on in the U.S. and other international laboratories looking at pigs, other livestock and pets. 

“To this point, we have no evidence that pigs can be infected,” Pyburn says.

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