Studies to explore animals’ susceptibility to Covid-19

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Studies are under way to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the Covid-19 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible species, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) says.

However, the organisation stresses that there is no evidence that companion animals spread the disease.

“Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,” it says.

Current evidence suggests that the Covid-19 virus emerged from an animal source.

Scientists are working to find that source, including the species involved, to learn about the potential role of an animal reservoir in the disease, which is now a global pandemic.

“However, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source or to explain the original route of transmission from an animal source to humans.”

The OIE says genetic sequence data reveals that the Covid-19 virus is closely related to a coronavirus circulating in horseshoe bat populations. There is the possibility that transmission to humans involved an intermediate host.

It says that now that the Covid-19 virus is widely distributed in the human population, there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans.

To date, two dogs have been infected with the virus after close contact with infected humans in Hong Kong. Testing showed the presence of genetic material from the Covid-19 virus in nasal and oral specimens. The dogs were not showing clinical signs of the disease.

A cat in Belgium has also tested positive, following close exposure to its Covid-19 positive owner, and is suspected to have been infected. The cat was showing signs of respiratory and gastro-intestinal disease. Testing showed the presence of genetic material from the virus in its vomit and faeces. Infection is suspected but has not yet been confirmed, the OIE says.

It stresses that there is currently no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of disease. “Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact,” the OIE says.

“There is no evidence that dogs or cats play a role in the spread of this human disease. Further studies are under way to understand if and how different animals could be affected by Covid-19 virus.

“However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases), it is still recommended that people who are sick with Covid-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus.

“When handling and caring for animals, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.”

When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for Covid-19 should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals.

“If they must look after their pet, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible.

“Animals belonging to owners infected with Covid-19 should be kept indoors as much as possible and contact with those pets should be avoided as much as possible.’

Based on currently available information, trade restrictions on animals or animal products are not recommended.

“It is important that Covid-19 does not lead to inappropriate measures being taken against domestic or wild animals which might compromise their welfare and health or have a negative impact on biodiversity.

The OIE says it is working to gather and share the latest available information from nations around the world.

It says it has mobilised an informal advisory group on Covid-19. The group, which includes world-leading scientists and researchers, meets regularly to share the latest information on research and disease events.

“Given the similarities between Covid-19 and the emergence of other human infectious diseases at the human-animal interface, the OIE is working with its Wildlife Working Group and other partners to develop a longer-term work programme which aims to better understand the dynamics and risks around wildlife trade and consumption, with a view to developing strategies to reduce the risk of future spillover events.”

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