ATHENS, Ga. — Coronavirus infections are nothing new to the poultry industry. For as long as anyone can remember, infectious bronchitis (IB) viruses have caused widespread losses in poultry flocks worldwide.
Still, it’s important to understand that common IB viruses in poultry flocks are not associated with the COVID-19 virus at the root of the global pandemic, according to Dr. Mark Jackwood, a molecular virologist and infectious bronchitis specialist who works at the University of Georgia’s Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center and heads the Department of Population Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
The coronavirus that affects poultry and causes respiratory disease in chickens is in the avian Gammacoronavirus group, which does not infect or cause disease in humans, he said in a statement jointly issued by the University of Georgia and the American Association of Avian Pathologists.
Furthermore, he noted that the COVID-19 virus is in the Betacoronavirus group along with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. “It was previously shown that SARS-CoV does not infect or cause disease in poultry,” Jackwood noted.
No threat to poultry
Because the COVID-19 virus belongs to the same group as SARS-CoV and uses the same ACE-2 host cell receptor, he said it was “highly unlikely” that the COVID-19 virus would infect or cause disease in poultry.
The virologist said it is widely accepted that bats are the main reservoir for coronaviruses affecting humans, but an intermediate host for the COVID-19 virus has not yet been identified.
While the poultry industry has vaccines available to help protect against the coronavirus that causes infectious bronchitis, finding the right combination of IBV vaccines has often proved challenging because of the many serotypes that infect birds.
“Fortunately, there appears to be only one type of COVID-19 virus circulating in humans,” Jackwood said while cautioning that full genome sequencing has shown that the virus is changing.
“From a vaccine standpoint, only one type of COVID-19 virus circulating in humans means that only one vaccine type should be needed to protect against this disease.”