What avian infectious bronchitis, COVID-19 have in common

COVID-19 dominated news headlines in 2020, but the poultry industry is very familiar with another coronavirus called infectious bronchitis.

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(Lightpring | Shutterstock.com)
(Lightpring | Shutterstock.com)

COVID-19 dominated news headlines in 2020, but the poultry industry is very familiar with another coronavirus called infectious bronchitis, Dr. Mark Jackwood, Department head and Professor in the Department of Population Health, Poultry Diagnostics and Research Center at the University of Georgia explained.

“Coronaviruses can cause a wide variety of diseases. Most of them are respiratory in nature. COVID-19 and avian infectious bronchitis both cause respiratory disease. Some viruses cause enteric disease or neurologic disease,” Jackwood said on September 29 during the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) 55th National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing, and Live Production.

What are coronaviruses?

The poultry industry has dealt with coronaviruses infections for a long time. Infectious bronchitis is one strain that has caused global widespread losses in poultry flocks.

“Coronaviruses are the largest single-stranded RNA virus. They have spikes on the outside, which are really important for how the virus produces disease,” Jackwood said.

“The spike protein allows these viruses to bind to the host cell receptors. But not all coronaviruses use the same host cell receptor. COVID-19 and SARS use the ACE2 receptor. Infectious bronchitis uses the Sialic acid receptor.”

Coronaviruses are host specific

Although coronaviruses can be found in numerous species, people should remember that the virus is highly host specific. Several studies have shown that it is highly unlikely that poultry and livestock can be infected with COVID-19.

“For the most part, coronaviruses are and can be fairly host specific. However, when animals have similar receptors, they can be infected with the disease. For examples, bats, minks and ferrets can all be infected with COVID-19,” said Jackwood. “Because of the receptor specificity, livestock, poultry and their products are not considered a source of COVID-19 infection in humans.”

Four similarities

Jackwood shared four similarities between infectious bronchitis and COVID-19:

  1. Both are upper respiratory diseases.
  2. Morbidity in bronchitis is almost 100%. We’re learning very quickly that COVID-19 is very infectious as well.
  3. Mortality (the rate of disease in a population) can vary quite a bit in infectious bronchitis. This usually results from secondary bacterial infections that can complicate the disease. The mortality variability that we see with COVID-19 in humans has a lot to do with preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
  4. Typical of upper respiratory tract diseases, symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, a lot of congestion in the trachea and the sinuses, tracheal lesions, sore throat, headaches and both of these viruses can also cause diarrhea.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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