Covid-19: Warning of the risks of the emergence of a variant in the animal reservoir of SARS-CoV-2

“Introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into wildlife could lead to the establishment of animal reservoirs,” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and OIE warned in a statement.

According to these three organizations, the virus is evolving and the risk of new variants emerging is “high”.

For example, it has been reported that about a third of wild white-tailed deer in the United States are now infected with SARS-CoV-2 after multiple incidents of human-to-deer transmission. SARS-CoV-2 lines detected in white-tailed deer have also spread to nearby human populations.

“White-tailed deer have been shown to shed the virus and transmit it to each other,” the three organizations said.

Do not approach or feed wild animals

To reduce the risk of variant emergence, the FAO, OIE and WHO call on all countries to take measures to reduce the risk of transmission between humans and animals.

This will require the adoption of “relevant regulations”, especially for people who are in close contact with or handle wild animals, including hunters and butchers.

While current data suggests humans don’t contract the virus from eating meat, hunters shouldn’t track animals that appear sick or harvest animals found dead.

“Proper slaughter and food preparation techniques, including proper hygiene practices, can limit the transmission of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and other zoonotic pathogens,” the three organizations argued.

As a precaution, people are asked not to approach or feed wild animals, or touch or eat orphaned, sick or dead animals (including road fatalities).

Instead, they should contact local wildlife authorities or a wildlife health practitioner.

It is also important to safely dispose of leftover food, masks, tissues and other human waste to avoid attracting wildlife, especially in urban areas. And if possible, keep pets away from wild animals and their droppings.

Suspend the sale of live wild mammals at food markets

In general, current knowledge indicates that wild animals do not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and encourage the emergence of new variants of the virus.

In addition to domestic animals, wild animals in the wild, in captivity or on farms such as big cats, mink, ferrets, white-tailed deer and great apes have also been observed to be infected with Covid-19.

So far, breeding mink and hamsters have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to the WHO, a “potential case of transmission” between a white-tailed deer and a human is currently being investigated.

To prevent the emergence of animal variants that could be potential virus reservoirs, FAO, WHO and OIE encourage sampling of wild animals known to be potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.

No animal found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 should be abandoned, disposed of or slaughtered without a country or event specific risk assessment being justified.

It also said it would “suspend the sale of live wild mammals caught at food markets as an emergency measure.”

From the start of the pandemic to March 4, 440,807,756 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported to the WHO worldwide, including 5,978,096 deaths. At the same time, more than 10.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, according to a tally compiled by the WHO on March 6.

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