WOOSTER, Ohio -- A scientist at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center can offer insight into a new coronavirus that is being blamed for 12 illnesses and five deaths internationally over the past 10 months, and which appears to begin to be spreading, but with limited person-to-person spread.
Linda Saif is known nationally and internationally for her work on enteric viruses, including coronaviruses, which affect both food-producing animals and humans. Saif is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Distinguished University Professor in the Food Animal Health Research Program on OARDC's Wooster campus. OARDC is the research arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Coronavirus family members include the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. In the 2003 SARS epidemic, more than 8,000 people worldwide became ill and 774 died.
Most of the cases of the new coronavirus, or "NCoV" for "novel coronavirus," have occurred in the Middle East, starting in Amman, Jordan, last April, followed by cases in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Last week, the World Health Organization reported three cases of coronavirus infection in the United Kingdom. All three cases are of members of the same family, one of whom recently traveled to the Middle East.
This type of coronavirus doesn't normally spread easily from person to person, so the transmission to family members in the United Kingdom has piqued the interest of health authorities. While the traveler's illness is severe, family members' cases are mild, and WHO says no sustained person-to-person transmission has been identified.
Saif's work on coronavirus focuses primarily on swine and cattle -- the pathogen can be deadly especially in young pigs -- and how the virus can be transmitted between animal species and between animals and people. In cattle, Saif's lab documented that respiratory coronavirus infections frequently occur in animals shortly after arrival to feedlots following long-distance shipping and identified them as a component of the shipping fever complex.
The origin of this novel coronavirus has not been determined, but analysis of the virus genome suggests that it is most closely related to bat coronaviruses, Saif said.
"WHO and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are closely monitoring the situation, but have not recommended any travel restrictions at this point," Saif said. "Still, anyone who has recently traveled internationally, especially to the Middle East, and is suffering from an acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath, should see a health professional."
Saif can be reached for comment at 330-263-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.