Zoos and pets pose same disease ‘spillover’ threat as wet markets, study finds
During the coronavirus outbreak, there have been numerous reports of infected pets and zoo animals, from a dog in Hong Kong in February 2020 – which initially baffled scientists – to two tigers from Sumatra currently recovering in the Jakarta Zoo amid the current wave of Indonesia.
Denmark also slaughtered millions of mink last year after finding a variant of the coronavirus in farmed populations that showed disturbing mutations.
The article suggests that animals in shelters are another high-risk population, due to their susceptibility to infection in a very stressful and cramped environment.
Researchers report an outbreak of H7N2 avian influenza in 2017 at cat shelters in New York City, which infected 300 animals – the first known example of the virus in cats – and spread to humans, as an example of their thesis.
Dr Bowsher said the veterinary and medical communities need to work together to detect potential zoonotic events earlier.
“Because we don’t measure, we just don’t know,” she told the Telegraph. “But it’s literally a breeding ground for viruses – and if we only look at humans, we’ll never get over this problem.”
She admitted that setting up a surveillance system would be complex and pose difficult questions for governments about restrictions if pathogens with potential to spill over were identified.
However, other experts said the chances of pets infecting humans with new viruses remained low.
Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the article, said: Exotic animals and other domestic animals are inferior to wildlife.
He said it was possible that spillover events occurred when humans first domesticated animals, pointing to a theory that domestication of cows could have caused measles in humans.
“But we have been living near these animals for a long time and so any likely overflow would have already occurred,” he added. “That’s not to say that it can’t happen, especially if the domestic animals themselves are infected from elsewhere, to act as an intermediate species.
“But the next spillover event is much more likely to occur, directly or indirectly, from an infection circulating in wildlife, especially rodents and bats.”
Dr Bowsher agreed this was the case, but said pressures on the environment across the world, including countries like the UK, meant these animals were increasingly susceptible to ” be in contact with humans and domestic animals.
“[For example], if a normally happy and undisturbed British bat is disturbed by a housing development, it is more likely to come into contact with other species which may consist of more wild or domesticated animals such than dogs or even humans, ”she said.
“It was these new contacts that triggered new pathogen transmission routes that we poorly monitor – so if a European bat lyssavirus (a causative agent of rabies) starts circulating in new species, we can take some time to catch up. ”
She said the key was to improve surveillance networks because of the role pets could play, even in the next pandemic.
“There’s a good chance the next thing will come from a bat, camel, or monkey – but the next pandemic could either seriously harm your dog, or the dog could even amplify the next pandemic. a way we don’t know about and which needs to be considered and evaluated, ”she said.
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