Pets are also at risk of contracting Covid-19

Pets are also at risk of contracting Covid-19

By Tracy Cabrera / Photos by Benjamin Cuaresma

ACCORDING to investigations, there is a strong possibility that the disease from the new coronavirus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2, or SARS-CoV-2, came from bats.

The first human cases of SARS-CoV-2, subsequently named Covid-19, were first reported by officials in Wuhan City, China, late last year.

Retrospective investigations by Chinese authorities have identified human cases with onset of symptoms in early December 2019. While some of the earliest known cases had a link to a wholesale food market in Wuhan, some did not.

Many of the initial patients were stall-owners, market employees, or regular visitors to this market.

Environmental samples taken from this market in December 2019 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, further suggesting that the market in Wuhan City was the source of this outbreak or played a role in the initial amplification of the outbreak.

Since there are some who say that the viral infection comes from bats, it raises the question on how exactly the new coronavirus was transferred to humans, though the scientific community seems to agree that the virus originated in bats.

Now with over 25 million human Covid-19 infections reported worldwide, and only minor reports of animals carrying the virus, it seems safe to say that they are not a major vector of the virus.

Still, in the midst of a lingering global pandemic, analyzing how exactly SARS-CoV-2 could continue to persist through various animal species is certainly warranted.

In a new study, that’s exactly what researchers from the University of California, Davis, did. Using DNA sequencing, the team studied hundreds of animal species to identify which ones may be susceptible to becoming ‘intermediate host species’ for the virus that causes Covid-19.

The study specifically analyzed the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) proteins, a receptor that has been shown to serve as an infection pathway for SARS-CoV-2, meaning it provides the “entry point for coronavirus” into the cells.

Joana Damas, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Genome Center and lead author of the study, explained that researchers determined the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 infecting the species by comparing “the number of differences between the species’ ACE2 protein … and the human ACE2.”

Based on the similarities, 18 species, including bonobo monkeys, chimpanzees, Western lowland gorillas and Rhesus macaques, were considered to have a very high risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Another 28 species, including beluga whales, reindeer, white-tailed deer and Pacific white-sided dolphins were classified as high risk.

Fifty-seven species, including cats, cattle, goats and sheep, were deemed medium risk, and over 40 species, including dogs, pigs and horses, were considered low risk.

Damas says the researchers weren’t necessarily surprised to see a number of primates in the very high risk and high risk categories, but what was surprising was “find(ing) some other species in the high category, for instance, deer, whales and dolphins.”

She notes that one of the most troubling aspects of the research was how many wild animals considered being vulnerable populations made the list.

Damas was also quick to note that the ranking is not intended to imply these animals will get Covid-19, but instead may help scientists make significant decisions.

“Our study identified a large number of mammals that can potentially be infected by SARS-CoV-2 through their ACE2 proteins. These are, however, predictions based solely on (computer) analysis and need to be confirmed by direct experimental data. Nonetheless, our results can assist the identification of species that may serve as a reservoir or intermediate host(s) for SARS-CoV-2 and hence reduce the opportunity of a future outbreak of COVID-19, and also facilitate the selection of model organisms for SARS-CoV-2 research,” she said.

Erin Katribe, a veterinary doctor and medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, similarly urges caution when interpreting the results.

“One goal of this study was to determine potential intermediate hosts that might present a spillover risk, but this is based solely on an infection pathway identified in humans,” Katribe disclosed.

Katribe also notes that the potential for an animal to get the virus doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be capable of spreading it.

“Just because it’s possible for a species to get infected, it does not mean that they will become infected at a high incidence, as we’ve seen play out in pet cats and dogs that have been exposed by their owners. The number of cats and dogs infected naturally is exceedingly low when compared to the enormous number of human cases globally,” she concluded.

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