Important update on COVID-19 as it applies to poultry, by Carol J. Cardona,DVM, PhD, DACPV Ben Pomeroy Chair in Avian Health College of Veterinary Medicine | University of Minnesota

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We are all watching the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolds. Each day, it seems this virus leaves us with more questions than answers. Although we can’t solve most of these issues, there are a few things we know and they can be addressed.

Does the coronavirus infect poultry or birds?

COVID-19 is an important human disease caused by a virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV2). The virus may have originally come from mammals, and genomic sequencing of the virus confirms natural evolution of the virus (Scripps Research Institute). Now, it is a human adapted virus causing a disease that spreads from human to human. Although the virus originally came from non-human mammals, the COVID-19 outbreak no longer involves them.

There are many types of coronaviruses and most vertebrates are hosts to one or more strains. Coronaviruses are RNA viruses and infect many species of warm blooded animals including birds.  The SARS-CoV2 virus belongs to the beta coronavirus subfamily. All known avian coronaviruses are in the gamma coronavirus subfamily. That means that there is very little relatedness between avian coronaviruses and SARS CoV2. We cannot say there is no risk that SAR-CoV2 could infect birds but it has had a lot of opportunities to do that in Asia and never has.

Influenza viruses, such as LPAI and HPAI, are not a part of the coronavirus family but they share many of the same characteristics:

1. They have an envelope. That means they are destroyed by UV light, drying, and disinfectants. Just like flu, cold and wet conditions will preserve the virus.

2. They have an RNA genome which means that when they reproduce, they change. This means over time, we will likely see changes in the virus, its antigenic profile, its contagiousness and its virulence.

3. It is a virus which means it needs a host to replicate in. Once it is out of the host, it will start to die.

4. Just like flu, it is spread in droplets. So, cover your sneezes and coughs!

So, are birds a host of SARS-CoV2? No, they are not.

Could a COVID-19 outbreak still affect your birds?

The novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV2 can impact your poultry in several ways. First, China has been hard hit by COVID-19 and even harder hit by the movement restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV2. The result is an extreme disruption of supply chains and thus you may see shortages of production-related products you get from China among them vitamins, amino acids, medications, some vaccines, etc. These could also affect your feed prices in the long or short term.

Similarly, the human outbreak of COVID-19, has resulted in runs on personal protective equipment like gloves, suits and masks. You may find it difficult to supply your biosecurity needs. Finally, if a full blown outbreak occurs in the US where large numbers of people are infected at the same time, then it may be a challenge to make sure your birds get the care they need everyday.

If you have additional questions about COVID-19 or SARS-CoV2, especially as it relates to birds, or the poultry industry, your veterinarian may be able to address them or you can send your questions to Dr. Carol Cardona (ccardona@umn.edu).

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