It’s still unclear what is responsible for the spread of coronavirus to humans – but a new study has mentioned pigs need to be monitored over fears they could "become intermediate hosts of a future pandemic".
Animals have been frequently theorised as being carriers of the virus with different studies mentioning pangolins and bats as susceptible.
But now a group of researchers have urged farmers to take particular care with pigs after the preliminary results of a new study found both the animal and cats had cells which are vulnerable to coronavirus.
“Given that the Covid-19 pandemic is still progressing and Sars-CoV-2 strains are constantly evolving, we need to keep monitoring and evaluating the possibility of pigs to become intermediate hosts of a future pandemic,” the Chinese team wrote in the study, reported bySouth China Morning Post (SCMP).
Doubt was cast on this study by German scientists who claim livestock such as pigs and chickens are not able to carry the virus.
Germany’s Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut started infection studies in pigs, saying: “Under experimental 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 a potential risk to human health.”
But Dr Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Duke University, said the German results may not be based on real-world conditions.
“One wonders if multiple respiratory viruses could cause some of those production herds to be receptive to Sars-CoV-2 and have pigs be an amplifying reservoir,” he told SCMP.
Dr Gray claimed people involved in farming or slaughtering could be vulnerable to new infections, adding “systematic sampling of livestock would be useful”.
As yet it’s only live animals which are being considered as possible carriers of the virus – it’s very unlikely shoppers could catch Covid-19 by eating meat from an infected animal.
However, China banned imported pork from German meat plant after more than 650 workers were infected in an isolated outbreak.
China’s Ministry of Commerce has pledged to improve communication and coordination with other countries to ensure the safety of food imports.
“Increasing the import of food and agricultural products is an important part of China’s proactive import policy,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told a press conference on Thursday.