By Waldheim Garcia Montoya
Recife, Brazil, May 26 (EFE).- Brazil’s scientific community has begun mobilizing after SARS-CoV-2 infections were detected in different wildlife species, with experts especially concerned about the potential impact of new coronavirus strains.
The presence of the virus in an anteater, a black-tufted marmoset and two manatees suggests that “a larger number of species are affected,” veterinarian Alexander Biondo told Efe.
Even so, he said the hope is that these animals won’t develop the disease: “That’s why we don’t talk about Covid-19 in animals but rather infection with SARS-CoV-2.”
“We have abundant fauna in Brazil, especially in the Amazon rainforest and to the (south) in the Atlantic Forest, and we already knew about those more susceptible animals, like small monkeys, felines and weasels,” said Biondo, a professor of zoonotic diseases at the Federal University of Parana in the southern city of Curitiba.
He said the surprising aspect of the four positive test results is that those animals had not been in contact with human beings, noting that they had been receiving treatment at veterinary hospitals in the western Pantanal tropical wetland area and the northern Amazon region for other health problems.
“We’re anticipating that the number of positive test results will increase, and that’s why Brazil has to protect its native fauna,” Biondo said, adding that the greater the number of species infected the higher the possibility that “new strains” of the virus will develop.
“The virus can cause problems when the animal has an infection or an associated morbidity, and that’s our concern because we’re entering an endemic phase with most people vaccinated and zoos, aquariums and parks reopening,” the expert said.
Biondo, who earned a PhD in veterinary pathobiology from the University of Illinois, recommends administering Covid-19 vaccines to zoo animals. And to that end a pilot project is to be carried out in Curitiba, capital of the southern state of Parana.
The veterinarian also is the leader of “PetCovid,” the first comprehensive study in Brazil on SARS-CoV-2 infections in dogs and cats.
Now in the serology stage, that study encompassing six Brazilian state capitals found that 15 percent of pets in homes with people infected with the coronavirus also tested positive.
Yet despite their positive diagnosis, the dogs and cats in the study were not found to have transmitted the virus to human beings; and unlike what was seen in some cats, no transmission was observed among dogs of the same species.
“Other animal species are more susceptible, like the mink,” a small mammal farmed for its fur, he recalled.
That animal was found to transmit a mutated form of the coronavirus to humans, prompting the Danish and Dutch governments to order the cull of their entire millions-strong mink herds in 2020.
The Brazilian study showed that people can transmit the coronavirus to animals, not only domestic pets but also native wildlife like jaguars and zoo animals such as lions and tigers, Biondo said.
“We suggest a pilot vaccination (program) be carried out, not only in Brazil but in the rest of the world … even if there’s not yet any specific outbreak and the cases are isolated,” he said, noting zoos in Spain are considering taking that step. EFE