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Is there evidence that animals can transfer Covid-19 to humans?6 min read

May 11, 2021 5 min read


Is there evidence that animals can transfer Covid-19 to humans?6 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Apparently not! But the reverse is not true. Read up on Owliver’s investigation of the matter.

On May 8, two lionesses tested positive for Covid-19 in Etawah Safari Park in Uttar Pradesh.
The authorities sent samples of eight animals for testing after the two lionesses began to show symptoms. The rest tested negative but Gauri and Jeniffer came out positive. The animals have been isolated and their condition is stable. According to officials, it is possible that the transmission happened because of an asymptomatic carrier.

This news came days after 8 lions tested positive in Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. 
The park sent samples for testing when the animals started showing signs of respiratory distress. They have been isolated, and have responded well to the treatment. Also, there is no presence of a mutant or variant that could cause worry.

The lions were tested using the same RT-PCR test that is used to identify the virus in humans. The test was conducted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad. The samples were collected in the same way as it is done for humans, through the mouth and nasal passage. More research is being conducted to find ways to take the test through faecal samples, as it is difficult to take such proximate samples from wild animals.

Based on the experience of last year where some zoo animals tested positive, “there is no factual evidence that animals can transfer the virus to humans,” said the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. 

But the reverse of that statement is not true! And its possibility cannot be undermined. Even the lions seem to have contracted it from asymptomatic humans (further investigation will reveal the source). As such, all zoos and parks have been closed throughout the state.

Animals and the Virus

Sourced from WeForum. Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Did you know that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses? Some cause cold-like illnesses in people, and some effect only animals. But some that infect animals, can also be passed onto humans. That is also the possible origin of the SARS-CoV-2 (probably in bats), the virus which leads to COVID-19. Even though its origin is from the wild, the chances of its transmissibility from animals to humans is really really low.

But are our furry friends safe from humans?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

  • A small number of pet cats and dogs have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in several countries,
  • Several animals in zoos and sanctuaries have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, including big cats (lions, tigers, pumas, cougars, snow leopards) and non-human primates (gorillas) after showing signs of illness. It is suspected that these animals became sick after being exposed to an animal caretaker with COVID-19. In many situations, this happened despite the staff wearing personal protective equipment and following COVID-19 precautions.
    Sourced from CDC

Here’s a snapshot of research from around the world:

In September 2020, research conducted in Canada showed the presence of antibodies in house pets. Samples were collected from pets with owners who were diagnosed with coronavirus or who had reported symptoms in the previous two weeks.
A similar study was conducted in Hong Kong in February. Samples were taken from 50 cats from infected households. Six of the 50 cats tested positive showing lung abnormalities. Studying the time of the transmission, the researchers found that rather than an animal to human transmission, this was an instance of human to animal transmission.

The curious case of minks:

A study in the Netherlands shows the first known case of an animal to human transmission. It happened on a mink farm where sixty-six people out of a pool of ninety-seven tested positive for the virus. Study of the duration of the virus suggests that two people were, in fact, infected by carrier minks. The study revealed that the virus that the humans contracted from the mink had mink-related mutations. A mutation is when the genetic built of the virus is altered.

“If animal-to-animal transmission does happen, it is likely to effect zoo animals far more than free-ranging animals. Outside animals don’t live in the kind of density zoo animals reside in.”

CCMB Advisor, Rakesh Mishra, News 18

The same may hold true for animals in farms and in close quarters with humans.

How to keep your pets safe?

The virus does not discriminate across species so it is important to keep your pets indoors and safe.
When you take your dog for a walk, ensure that there is a 6 feet distance between your dog and others on the road.
Do not let your pet roam around freely outside.
Follow the same rules for your pet, as you follow for yourself, but, contrary to the image on your left, do not make your pet wear a mask. Masks can harm animals. Also do not use sanitisers on your pets. Ask your veterinary doctor for the appropriate hygiene method.

If someone in your home gets infected with Covid-19, ensure that the person is isolated not just from the people of the family but also from the pets. Observe yourself, the family, and your pet. Keep the vet in the loop just in case your pet needs to be taken to a care facility.

What to do if your pet is showing symptoms?

Symptoms to look out for:
1. Fever
2. Coughing
3. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
4. Lethargy (unusual laziness or sluggish)
5. Sneezing
6. Runny nose
7. Eye discharge
8. Vomiting
9. Diarrhea
Sourced from CDC

  • Call your veterinary doctor, and practice isolation, just like you would do with a human.
  • Follow full protocol while tending to your sick pets.
  • Keep an isolation facility for them at home.
  • Do not let them mix up with other pets. Keep their blankets, bowls etc separate.
  • Wear your mask while tending to them, and sanitise your hands, repeatedly.
    (For further detail on looking after your pet, see CDC)

And remember to offer a smile to your recovering pet. It goes a long way in boosting a convalescence’s morale!

The times are tough but there are silver linings to look forward to! Russia reportedly has started mass production of the first ever Covid-19 vaccine for animals called Carnivac-Cov, as the world waits in eager anticipation!

Owliver wishes a speedy recovery to all our friends from the wild!

Sourced from CIDRAP, CDC, CNN, News18, India Today, Hindustan Times and LiveMint