Deer, mink and hyenas have caught COVID-19 – animal virologists explain how to find coronavirus in animals and why people should worry
Deer, mink and hyenas have caught COVID-19 – animal virologists explain how to find coronavirus in animals and why people should worry

Deer, mink and hyenas have caught COVID-19 – animal virologists explain how to find coronavirus in animals and why people should worry

Sue Vande Woude, Colorado State University; Angela Bosco-Lauth, Colorado State Universityand Christie Mayo, Colorado State University

In April 2020, tigers and lions came in the Bronx Zoo news when they came down with COVID-19. In the months following these surprising diagnoses, researchers and veterinarians found SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in almost a dozen other speciesboth in captivity and in nature.

How do so many animals get coronavirus? And what does it mean for human and animal health?

We are veterinarian researchers WHO look into animal diseases, including zoonotic diseases, which can infect both humans and animals. It is important for the health of both humans and animals to know which species are susceptible to coronavirus infection. Our laboratories and others around the world have tested domestic animals, captured and wild animals for the virus, in addition perform experiments to determine which species are susceptible.

The list above infected animals so far includes more than a dozen species. But in reality, infections can be much more prevalent as very few species and individual animals have been tested. This has real consequences for human health. Animals can not only spread pathogens like coronavirus, but can also be a source of new mutations.

By exposing some animals to coronavirus experimentally, researchers can understand which species are susceptible and how they respond to infection. Adapted from , CC BY-NC-ND

Which animals have got coronavirus?

As of February 2022, researchers and veterinary diagnostic laboratories have confirmed this 31 species are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. In addition to pets and zoos, researchers have found that a number non-human primates, ildere, deer mouse, hyenas, forest rats, striped skunks and red foxes is among the animals susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2.

White-tailed deer and mink are the only two animal species found to house viruses in the wild. Fortunately, most animals does not appear to experience clinical disease as humans do, with the exception of mink. But even animals that do not look sick may be able to transmit the virus to each other and potentially back to humans. Still unanswered are many questions about which animals can get the virus and what it means to humans.

A small, long, dark brown mink standing on the ground.
Researchers knew that ferrets were susceptible to the first SARS outbreak in 2002, so they tested the closely related mink after reports of disease on mink farms. Patrick Reijnders / WikimediaCommons, CC BY-SA

How to look for a virus in animals

There are three ways to study zoonotic diseases: by looking at pets or captured species as animals in zoos, testing wild animals for coronavirus, or by exposing animals to the virus in a laboratory.

In the early stages of the pandemic, where a few pet owners or animal keepers observed animals with breathing problems or coughing, they agreed with veterinarians to have them tested for coronavirus. US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coordinate COVID-19 testing and handling in animals. The same process of taking a sample and running it through a PCR machine to test for coronavirus works just as well for animals as for humans, although it requires a little more training to wipe the nose of a lion – or even a cat . and finesse. Veterinary diagnostic laboratories just like our own run hundreds of thousands of tests for animal diseases every year so we were able to easily start testing for SARS-CoV-2.

By relying on previous research, researchers have been able to make some suggestions as to which animals are susceptible and have tested these hypotheses. Cats, hamsters and ferrets were all infected during first SARS outbreak in 2002, so researchers suspected they would be susceptible to the new coronavirus. Sure enough, research showed that SARS-CoV-2 easily infected these species in laboratory experiments. Mink is closely related to ferrets, and during the summer and fall of 2020, mink farms across the United States places with large eruptions after humans have transmitted coronavirus to animals.

Using computer models, the researchers were also able to predict that coronavirus could easily infect some deer species using. key proteins on their cells. Based on these predictions, researchers began testing white-tailed deer for coronavirus and first reported positive in August 2021.

Most recently, on February 7, 2022, researchers published a pre-printed paper showing that deer on Staten Island, New York, are infected with omicron variant. Since this is the virus that infects most New Yorkers, this provides strong evidence that humans have somehow transmitted the virus to deer. How deer enter at at least six states and Canada originally came into contact with SARS-CoV-2 remains a mystery.

Finally, to understand how coronavirus affects animals, researchers have performed carefully controlled exposure tests. These studies evaluate how infected animals excrete the virus, whether they have clinical symptoms, and whether and how much the virus mutates in different species.

Five different colored spherical coronaviruses representing some of the existing variants.
When coronavirus jumps from species to species, the chances of a new variant appearing increase. Andriy Onufriyenko / Moment via Getty Images

Risks of a species-jumping coronavirus

The risk of getting SARS-CoV-2 from an animal is for most humans far lower than being exposed to it by another human. But if coronavirus lives and spreads among animals and occasionally jumps back to humans, this process – known as contagion and contagion Poses its own threats to public health.

First, infection of animals simply increases the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in an environment. Second, large populations of animals that can sustain the infection can act as a reservoir for the virus and maintain it, even as the number of infections in humans decreases. This is especially worrying with deer living in high numbers in the suburbs and can transmit the virus back to humans.

Finally, when SARS-CoV-2 spreads from humans to animals, our laboratory’s own work indicates that the virus very quickly accumulates mutations. Viruses adapt to the unique characteristics – body temperature, diet and immune composition – of the animal they live in by mutating. The more species that are infected, the more mutations occur. It is possible that the new species that appear in humans can infect new animal species. Or it is possible that new variants could originally arise from animals and infect humans.

The history of SARS-CoV-2 in animals is not over yet. According to the CDC, six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans can spread from animals to humans, and about three-quarters of new or new infectious diseases in humans come from animals. Research has shown that investing in the study of zoonotic diseases could reduce the cost of future pandemics significantlyand this type of complex research has historically been underfunded. Despite this, in 2021 the CDC allocated only $ 193 million against the study of new zoonotic infectious diseases – less than a quarter of 1 percent of the CDC’s total budget.

There are still many unknowns about how viruses are transmitted between humans and animals, how they live and mutate in animal populations and the risk of species-jumping viruses. The more scientists know, the better health officials, governments and scientists can prepare for and prevent the next pandemic.

[Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation’s new science newsletter.]

Sue Vande WoudeUniversity Distinguished Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology and Director of the One Health Institute, Colorado State University; Angela Bosco-Lauthassistant professor of biomedical sciences, Colorado State Universityand Christie MayoAssociate Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, Colorado State University

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read original article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.