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For The West's Stockgrowers, Nothing's Novel About Coronaviruses

Washington State Department of Agriculture
Strains of coronaviruses common among livestock, which cause symptoms such as diarrhea, are not the ones raising fears of a global pandemic.

It's not uncommon for livestock to get certain strains of coronavirus. But the strains that affect cattle and other farm animals are not the ones raising fears of a global pandemic.

Myrna Miller, a virologist at the Wyoming State Veterinarian Laboratory at the University of Wyoming, said there are a lot of different strains of the coronavirus.

"There's cattle coronaviruses, pig [coronaviruses]," Miller said. "There's also coronaviruses of dogs and cats."

The common cold in humans can be a coronavirus. In cows and pigs it can cause diarrhea. The vast majority of common coronaviruses among livestock-such as bovine coronavirus and porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED-stick to their own species.

"There is no indication that our livestock coronaviruses in the United States have been a source of viruses jumping over to humans," Miller said.

But as Russ Daly, an extension veterinarian based at South Dakota State University, recently wrote, small changes to these viral molecules over time can affect a different part of the body or different species.

"In investigating where the Chinese novel coronavirus began, authorities have pointed the finger at a 'wet market' in one Chinese city," Daly wrote. "Wet markets are fascinating places where people can buy supplies, food, and live animals. The variety and number of live animals for sale can be astounding: chickens, pigeons, bats, rodents, snakes, and more. Throw in thousands of human shoppers and you have a unique opportunity for viruses to 'try out' infecting species besides their normal host. Sometimes-apparently in this case-it works."

There have been no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the Mountain West.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.


Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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