Coronavirus ‘Spillovers’ More Frequent Than Thought (UF Health Newsroom)

Coronavirus ‘Spillovers’ More Frequent Than Thought

University of Florida researchers have detected past instances of people becoming infected with a type of coronavirus that was until now thought only to be found in pigs.

The infections occurred between 2014 and 2015 and no known transmission to other people occurred. But the discovery marks the first time that any coronavirus strain from the subgroup that commonly infects pigs, known as deltacoronaviruses, has been found in humans. It also adds to growing evidence that coronaviruses common to animals may switch hosts and “spill over” into people more frequently than once thought.

The findings were published November 17, 2021, in Nature.

The good news is that most spillover infections are not serious and rarely lead to person-to-person transmission, says UF Emerging Pathogens Institute Director J. Glenn Morris Jr., M.D., M.P.H. & T.M., who is also the study’s senior author.

“What we’ve shown is that there is likely some movement back and forth with coronaviruses between animals and people,” Morris said. “It’s simply not detected most of the time because we don’t look for it.”

The study’s first author, John Lednicky, Ph.D., a research professor in the department of environmental and global health in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, said the research team thought outside the box to overcome the challenge of testing for an unknown virus.

 “Traditional PCR technology is guided by a dogmatic view that ‘if you look, you find,’” Lednicky said. “But we merged classic virology with molecular approaches. My laboratory does this frequently, and we continually find viruses that are overlooked by standard tests.”

Learn more about Coronavirus ‘Spillovers’ More Frequent Than Thought.