In the northern forests of Minnesota, researchers are sneaking into the dens of hibernating black bears, trapping deer in nets, and trapping wolves and elk to get a quick swab of their snouts — all in an effort to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2. follow, the virus that causes Covid-19 in wildlife, writes Laura Ungar in an article for the Associated Press†
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how closely human and animal health are intertwined. While the exact origin of the virus has not been established, researchers suspect it may have jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through an intermediate animal vector. While SARS-CoV-2 is known to infect animal species, the Covid-19 pandemic is caused by human-to-human transmission. Although current research shows that wildlife does not play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans, experts are still concerned about the spread of the virus between animal populations, which could facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Animal Health – formerly the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) – launched a joint statement Call on global wildlife organizations to prioritize monitoring SARS-CoV-2 infections in wildlife to prevent the formation of animal reservoirs. In a reservoir, the virus can mutate and emerge as different tribes. So far, pets, big cats, mink, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have been observed infected with the virus. According to the statement, cases of farmed minks and pet hamsters have been shown to infect humans with SARS-CoV-2.
“If the virus can establish itself in a wildlife reservoir, it will always be out there with the threat of flowing back into the human population,” said Matthew Aliota, an emerging pathogen biologist at the University of Minnesota involved in monitoring the disease. efforts in the state, AP tells WebMD. After wiping the animal’s noses, biologists send the samples to Aliota’s lab in St. Paul, Minnesota. Results of the tests could reveal which animals become infected and can spread the virus to other woodland creatures, such as red foxes and raccoons, the AP reports.
EJ Issac, a fish and wildlife biologist at the reserve where the Grand Portage Ojibwe resides, tells the AP he expects more at stake this spring as animals wake up from hibernation and mingle with other animals and move into different regions.
At least there are animals in the wild at the moment 24 US States have contracted the virus. White-tailed deer appear to be a prominent potential reservoir species. University of Pennsylvania microbiologist Andrew Marques, who co-authored the study, said: Ari Daniel from NPR that the transfer rate is “absolutely astonishing when we look at the degree of positivity in people.” (In March, when the study was published, in a city like Philadelphia, coronavirus rates were about three percent in humans, according to NPR.)
Between September 2020 and January 2021, researchers in Iowa tested 151 wild white-tailed deer and 132 captive deer, according to a study published in PNAS in January† Of these, 33 percent tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. During the same period, the United States Department of Agriculture collected 481 samples from deer in Illinois, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, as well as found about a third of those deer had coronavirus antibodies in their systems.
More recently in fall and winter 2021, researchers in Pennsylvania also identified a 20 percent positivity rate for coronavirus in dead white-tailed deer that were hunted or involved in vehicular collisions, per NPR† both are cases where human-animal interaction is more likely. They were also able to sequence the genome of seven samples and found that the Delta strain was present, marking the first observations of deer lineage, according to the study.
A Canadian study published on the preprint server bioRxiv identified a person in February of this year who may have contracted a mutated strain of the virus from an infected white-tailed deer, according to the AP. This study is currently undergoing peer-review by an external panel of experts, according to the WHO statement†
“We are encroaching on animal habitats like we have never done before in history,” Aliota told AP. “Spillover events from wildlife to humans will, unfortunately I think, increase in both frequency and magnitude.”