Amid widespread concern over reports that frozen chicken wings imported to China from Brazil tested positive for the coronavirus, experts said Thursday that the likelihood of catching the virus from food – especially frozen, packaged food – is extremely high. Low.
“It means someone has been treated with chicken wings that may have had the virus,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University. “But it does not mean, ‘Oh my God, no one buys chicken wings because they are dirty.’
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that “there is no evidence to suggest that food treatment or food consumption is related to Covid-19”. The main route that the virus is known to be taken from person to person is through spray from sneezing, coughing, talking or even breathing.
“I have no connection between this and the fear that this is the cause of some remote departure event,” said C. Brandon Ogbunu, a disease ecologist at Yale University. When the virus crosses international borders, it is almost certainly fragmented by humans, rather than the commercial products they transport.
The chicken wings were examined Wednesday in Longgang’s Shenzhen district, where officials have tested imports for the presence of coronavirus, or RNA, genetic material. Some samples taken from the outer packaging of frozen seafood, some of which were shipped from Ecuador, recently tested positive for the RNA virus in China’s Anhui, Shaanxi and Shandong provinces as well.
Laboratory procedures that require RNA also form the basis of most coronavirus tests performed on humans. But RNA is only a representative for the presence of the virus, which can leave behind pieces of its genetic material even after it has been destroyed, said Dr. Ogbunu. “This is just the signature revelation that the virus has been there at one point,” he said.
To prove that a dangerous, viable virus persists in food or packaging, researchers will need to isolate the microbe and indicate in a laboratory that it can still recur. These experiments are logically challenging and require specially trained personnel and are not part of the typical test pipeline.
After samples taken from the meat surface tested positive, officials conducted similar tests on several people they suspected had come in contact with the product. They also tested a host of other packaged goods. All samples analyzed so far have been negative for coronavirus RNA, according to a statement issued by the Shenzhen Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters.
But the same statement warned consumers about imported frozen products and early reports of this news raised the alarm on social media.
Both Dr. Ogbunu and Dr. Rasmussen said a series of extremely unusual events would have to occur for the virus to be transmitted through a frozen meat product. Depending on the origin of the virus, it will have to endure a potential cross-continental trip in a frozen state – likely thawing and refreshing at least once along the way – then find its way into someone’s bare hands, on the road to the nose or mouth.
Even more unlikely is the scenario that a virus could feed after being heated, survive by being swallowed in the human ultra-acid digestive tract, and then set up shop in the airways.
“The risks of this happening are extremely small,” said Dr. Rasmussen.
Some viruses may be able to make the weather of such a large pilgrimage. But coronavirus is certainly not one of them because it is a so-called enveloping virus, wrapped in a fragile outer shell that is susceptible to all sorts of environmental disturbances, including extreme temperature changes.
Viruses are often frozen in laboratories that store stocks of pathogens for experiments. But virologists must monitor that process carefully so as not to destroy the vulnerable defects.
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 12, 2020
Can I travel within the United States?
- Many states have travel restrictions, and many are taking active steps to enforce those restrictions, such as issuing fines or requiring visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here you have an ever-updating list of restrictions across the country. In general, travel increases the chance of finding and spreading the virus, as you will meet more people than if you were left at home in your “pod”. “Staying at home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” says CDC. If you travel, take precautions. If you can, drive the car. If you have to fly, be careful in choosing the airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep airplanes clean and limit your risk.
I have antibodies. Am I immune?
- For now, this seems likely, for at least a few months. There have been scary stories about people suffering from what appears to be a second period of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have an withdrawn course of infection, with the virus taking a slow week to months after initial exposure. People infected with coronavirus usually produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies can last in the body for only two to three months, which may seem disturbing, but this is perfectly normal as an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it is very unlikely that it will be possible in a short window of time from the initial infection or make people sicker a second time.
I am a small business owner. Can I get relief?
- Incentive bills approved in March provide assistance to millions of small US businesses. Those eligible for assistance are businesses and non-profit organizations with less than 500 employees, including sole proprietorships, independent and self-employed contractors. Some larger enterprises in some industries are also eligible. The assistance provided, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Payment Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Credit program. But many people have not yet seen payments. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some have stumbled upon money they do not know how to use. Many small business owners are getting less than they expected or heard nothing about.
What are my rights if I am worried about returning to work?
What will the school look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, seeking to continue online learning education, perfect childcare and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts – Los Angeles and San Diego – said on July 13 that instruction would be remote only in the fall, citing concerns that coronavirus infections in their areas pose a very high risk to students. and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll about 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to the classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution will not be an all or nothing approach. Many systems, including the largest city, New York City, are developing hybrid plans that include spending a few days in class and other days online. There is still no national policy on this, so check your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
“The act of freezing and thawing is a kind of violent thermodynamic process,” said Dr. Ogbunu. “A virus, for all its strength and resilience, is a very delicate instrument of infection.”
The CDC has noted that it is “possible” that the coronavirus could spread to contaminated surfaces, including food packaging or food. But it is not known to be among the main ways the virus spreads.
If you do not want to become infected, avoiding direct contact with other people is probably a better use of your time, said Dr. Ogbunu.
“Yes, we must continue to wash our hands and be mindful of surfaces where there are many individuals,” he said. “But it is the closeness to others that can really facilitate transmission.”