Vets against COVID-19

16 November 2020 – News

COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 and it has affected all of our lives this year.

Italy was one of the European countries worst affected. In addition to having to deal with overcrowded hospitals, building the capacity to perform thousands of tests daily was another huge challenge. To address this, the Italian Ministry of Health and Veterinary Public Health Institutes (local name: IZS) worked closely together to test human samples for the virus. The decision to take this One Health approach was a natural move as it would facilitate the development of common diagnostic and data exchange protocols and the IZS had the technical, scientific and infrastructural capability to support the National Health Care System with diagnostic tests and genomic analysis.

This paper describes the experience of the Istituto Zooprofilatico Sperimentale dell’ Abruzzo e del Molise during three weeks of providing COVID-19 crisis support.

Work carried out by the laboratory involved the molecular detection of this novel coronavirus RNA with positive samples further processed using next-generation sequencing. The resultant sequences described in this study revealed more than 99% of the nucleotide identity with SARS-COV-2 reference strain (from Wuhan) but all had single nucleotide polymorphisms. The genome analysis suggested that different variants of the virus could be circulating in Italy.

In this study, the hallmark by which SARS-COV-2 strains were characterized was largely located in its N protein. This had the potential to be of value in the development of a vaccine but mutations were also considered and additional research is required to better characterize the variants.

A multidisciplinary strategy is essential to face the challenge from a virus such as SARS-COV-2. Veterinarians have significant experience of CoVs and related diseases, making their expertise vital to support faster diagnosis, epidemiological investigations, molecular characterization and the development of vaccines.

A. Lorusso, et al. A “One-Health” approach for diagnosis and molecular characterization of SARS-CoV-2 in Italy. One Health 10 (2020) 100135.