Covid-19 and animals: We need to know more about transmission

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Three US researchers say studies are needed on the transmissibility of the virus between animal species and between animals and humans, and on how Covid-19 is expressed in animals.

Three US scientists say there is a critical need for research on the ability of the Covid-19 virus to infect certain animal species and the transmissibility of infection between humans and those animals.

Looking at domestic and companion animals, including horses, livestock, poultry, working animals such as military service dogs, and zoo species, the researchers identified three urgent issues:

  • The potential for domesticated animals to transmit infection to humans and to contribute to community spread of disease;
  • The impact on food security, economy, and trade if livestock and poultry are affected by coronavirus; and
  • The effect on national security if the virus infects military service dogs and impairs their sense of smell, often used for tracking and to detect explosives and narcotics.

In an article published in the peer-reviewed publication Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, Tracey McNamara of the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, Juergen Richt from Kansas State University and Larry Glickman from Purdue University in Indiana, say stringent studies are needed, with robust data collection, and not just anecdotal evidence.

“Dogs, cats, lions, and tigers have all already tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. Studies are needed on the transmissibility of the virus between animal species and between animals and humans, on the best diagnostic tests available for companion animals and livestock, and on how Covid-19 is expressed in animals.”

Commenting on their article A Critical Needs Assessment for Research in Companion Animals and Livestock Following the Pandemic of Covid-19 in Humans, Stephen Higgs, Editor-in-Chief of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, said the potential for zoonotic SARS-CoV-2 to infect companion animals has been a topic of much discussion.

“With over 3 million cases of Covid-19 and over a quarter of a million deaths worldwide so far since January, it is vital that we understand the risks posed by domestic animals as a possible source for human infection.

“This review, brings all of what we know about SARS–CoV-2, pets, and other animals to our readership,” said Higgs, who is also director of the Biosecurity Research Institute, Kansas State University.

The researchers say that molecular diagnostic kits used for human Covid-19 testing can be easily adapted to animal testing — as long as the SARS-CoV-2 does not dramatically mutate after cross-species transmission from humans to animals.

“In the immediacy of the Covid-19 crisis, the focus has understandably been on human health. But we have ignored the opposite side of the coin of emerging zoonotic disease threats — the animals themselves. This lack of a One Health approach has resulted in an unnecessary delay in the investigation of important veterinary issues as they pertain to public health. Had we taken a proactive approach, we could have gotten ahead of this,” the researchers say.

A Critical Needs Assessment for Research in Companion Animals and Livestock Following the Pandemic of COVID-19 in Humans.
Tracey McNamara, Juergen A. Richt, and Larry Glickman. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.
http://doi.org/10.1089/vbz.2020.2650

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