Friday Presentation – Wyatt

Swine Barn Dust Exposure Increases COVID-19 Infection

Todd Wyatt, PhD, Deputy Director, Central States Center for Agricultural Safety & Health (CS-CASH)

Professor Wyatt has researched mechanisms of environmental lung disease for the past 26 years. His current research, funded by the National Pork Board, seeks to understand the relationship between swine dust, chronic lung disease, and COVID-19 infections.

Learning objective:
Participants will be able to recognize the impact of agricultural dust on lung disease and risks that existing lung disease can have on COVID-19 infection.


COVID-19 has caused 34 million infections and 600,000 deaths in the US. While meat packers suffered increased infections, no research has explored whether agricultural exposures increase COVID-19 infection. Pre-existing lung disease, such as COPD, causes severe COVID-19 symptoms and poor outcomes. Inflammatory lung diseases occur in agricultural workers exposed to inhaled organic dusts from animals. We hypothesize that swine production workers face enhanced risk to COVID-19 infection and disease severity due to existing dust-induced lung inflammation. Previously, we showed barn dusts contain bacterial products stimulating inflammation through an enzyme sheddase (ADAM-17). Others showed ADAM-17 cleaves ACE2 (the lung cell coronavirus receptor) and enhances viral entry. We hypothesize that ADAM-17 may allow for enhanced coronavirus infection under conditions of swine dust co-exposure. To test our hypothesis, we infected human and mouse lung cells with live SARS-CoV-2 virus. We determined infection through quantitative imaging and viral RNA and measured ACE2 mRNA expression. We observed low concentrations of organic dust extract (ODE; 0.5%) increased CoV-2 infection and ACE2 expression. High ODE (5%) produced decreased ACE2 and CoV-2 infection. This effect is reversed by inhibiting ADAM-17 activity. These data reveal ODE exposure alters CoV-2 infection through an ADAM-17 dependent pathway, suggesting a risk for worker COVID-19 infection is possible from organic dust inhalation.

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