Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus (Covid – 19)

With the recent extension of the lock down by the federal government for another 2 weeks a lot of people are agitated and quite confused as to how long this will continue. Therefore, we decided to answer some questions on the coronavirus diseases (Covid – 19) and how it affects animals particularly livestock.

What causes Covid – 19?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses. They are called coronaviruses because the virus particle exhibits a characteristic ‘corona’ (crown) of spike proteins around its lipid envelope.

CoV infections are common in animals and humans. Some strains of CoV are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans, but many strains are not zoonotic.

In humans, CoV can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (caused by MERS-CoV), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (caused by SARS-CoV).

In December 2019, human cases of pneumonia of unknown origin were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China (People’s Rep. of). A new CoV was identified as the causative agent by Chinese Authorities. Since then, human cases have been reported by almost all countries around the world and the COVID-19 event has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a pandemic.

The CoV which causes COVID-19 has been named as SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV); this is the scientific name.

The virus may also be referred to as “the COVID-19 virus

Are animals responsible for COVID-19 in people?

The predominant route of transmission of COVID-19 is from human to human.

Current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus emerged from an animal source. Genetic sequence data reveals that the COVID-19 virus is a close relative of other CoV found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (Horseshoe Bat) populations. However, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus or to explain the original route of transmission to humans

Can animals be infected with COVID-19 virus?

Now that COVID-19 virus infections are widely distributed in the human population, there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Infection of animals with COVID-19 virus may have implications for animal health and welfare, and for wildlife conservation.

Several dogs and cats (domestic cats and a tiger) have tested positive to COVID-19 virus following close contact with infected humans. (Source OIE)

Studies are underway to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the COVID-19 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species.

To date, preliminary findings from studies suggest that poultry and pigs, are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.

What do we know about COVID-19 virus and companion animals?

The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals play a significant a role in spreading the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.

What precautionary measures should be taken when companion or other animals have close contact with humans sick or suspected with COVID-19?

Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a significant epidemiological role in this human disease. 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.

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.

What can National Veterinary Services do with regards to companion animals?

Public Health and Veterinary Services should work together, share information and conduct a risk assessment when a person with COVID-19 reports being in contact with companion or other animals.

Animals that test positive for COVID-19 should be kept away from unexposed animals and contact with those animals should be avoided as much as possible.

Are there any precautions to take with live animals or animal products?

In accordance with the advice offered by the WHO, as a general precaution, when visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets, general hygiene measures should be applied.

These include regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products, as well as avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products.

Any contact with other animals possibly living in the market (e.g., stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds, bats) should be avoided. Precaution should be taken to avoid contact with animal waste or fluids on the soil or surfaces of shops and market facilities.

Standard recommendations issued by WHO to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose with the elbow when coughing and sneezing and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. 

What are the Veterinary Authority’s international responsibilities in this event?

The infection of animals with COVID-19 virus meets the criteria of an emerging disease.

Therefore, any (case of) infection of animals with the COVID-19 virus in (including information about the species, diagnostic tests, and relevant epidemiological information) should be reported

It is important for Veterinary Authorities to remain informed and maintain close liaison with public health authorities and those responsible for wildlife, to ensure coherent and appropriate risk communication messages and risk management.

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. (Source – OIE)

If you made it to the end of this article, don’t forget to check out our post on “Managing Mud in the Feedlot here.