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A pan-coronavirus RT-PCR assay for rapid viral screening of animal, human, and environmental specimens

June 28, 2021

By: Emma Wang, MSc

In the past year, we have witnessed elevated mortality, morbidity, and societal disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. It makes us realize the importance of conducting routine surveillance of coronaviruses at the animal-human-interface.

In the paper titled “A pan-coronavirus RT-PCR assay for rapid viral screening of animal, human, and environmental specimens,” Emma Wang and Duke One Health Team members attempted to identify possible cryptic coronaviruses (α-, β-, γ-, and δ- coronaviruses) from a collection of archived animal, human, and environmental samples using a previously reported conventional RT-PCR assay designed by Xiu et al.

We examined a collection of 386 animal, 451 human, and 109 bioaerosol archived samples. Thirty-eight (4.02%) of 946 specimens yielded evidence of human or animal coronaviruses. Seven unique coronaviruses were identified from these samples, including porcine hemagglutinating encephalomyelitis viruses (PHEV), porcine epidemic diarrhea viruses (PEDV), porcine respiratory coronaviruses (PRCV), human coronavirus (229E), human coronavirus (HKU1), duck coronavirus, and infectious bronchitis viruses (IBV).

Our findings demonstrate the utility of employing the pan-CoV RT-PCR assay in detecting varied coronaviruses among human, animal, and environmental specimens. Additionally, this pan-species assay could be considered as a valuable supplement to focused real-time clinical assays in the detection of novel pathogens. All these findings underscore the value of the pan-species CoV assay in novel virus discovery.

Based on these findings, we strongly recommend public health and veterinary health officials include pan-species or next-generation sequencing assessments for novel virus detections in planning pre-pandemic virus surveillance among high-risk populations for zoonotic spillover events, such as animal workers. Early detection of known and unknown coronaviruses is the key to preventing transmission among animals and humans.

The full article can be found here.

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