New developments in how COVID-19 spreads between humans and animals have revealed a discouraging fact. There’s at least one animal that can spread the virus to humans, possibly as many as two. Scientists have speculated that bats were the source of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) in China. Now COVID outbreaks in Denmark have been traced back to exposure to infected minks raised for their fur.
6. The Mink Connection
Early in the pandemic, researchers hypothesized that it all began with the virus crossing species from horseshoe bats to humans. However, this hypothesis was noted as “possible”, not proven. Until the cross-species spread from minks in Denmark, humans were thought to be very safe from catching the virus from any other animals. Because the number of minks raised for fur in Denmark are in the millions, they suddenly became a significant threat to public health. Around 17 million mink were set to be destroyed, including healthy animals not carrying the virus, but public outcry delayed the killing of all mink in Denmark for now.
There’s a troubling twist in the coronavirus spread from minks to humans. The virus seems to mutate from one species to another. As reported by the New York Times, mink can catch the virus from humans, pass it to each other, and then pass it back to people. Over 200 people infected by mink in Denmark contracted mutations of the original coronavirus. The virus mutations aren’t more dangerous to human health, but they do pose a problem. If vaccines are developed for the original coronavirus, will they also create immunity for the mutated virus? That’s the question on the minds of health authorities.
Fortunately, not every mutation of the virus spread by mink to humans is considered an additional health risk. Mutations the Denmark scientists found located in spike proteins of the virus could still be covered by vaccines currently being developed. Though, as the New York Times indicated, the testing on these mutations is preliminary. One virus mutation called cluster 5 is cause for concern. Time will tell if additional vaccines will be necessary. In the meantime, a few million of Denmark’s farmed mink have already been culled to lower the chances of spread and the possibility of new mutations to occur.
5. Other Animals in Danger
Though mink are the only animals proven to spread COVID-19 back and forth with humans, other animals can contract and become sick with the virus. Lions, tigers, dogs, cats and more are in danger of catching COVID from humans. Read on to learn more about each of these animals and how they have been affected. Perhaps more time and research will reveal that other creatures are susceptible to coronavirus illness. Hopefully the cases of infections are limited to the following animals until viable vaccines are widely available.
4. Tigers and Lions
The Bronx Zoo in New York City is where it was first discovered that animals can contract COVID-19 from humans, as reported by National Geographic. First, one tiger was diagnosed with the virus, while several lions were beginning to show symptoms. Then three more lions and five more tigers contracted COVID, presumably from a zookeeper who was asymptomatic. The first tiger, called Nadia, had developed a dry cough. Other wild cats at the Bronx Zoo began developing a similar cough and loss of appetite. Though tigers and lions can catch coronavirus from humans, there have been no reported cases of humans catching it from these animals.
3. Cats and Dogs
Apparently, specific strains of coronavirus can cause symptoms in domestic cats and dogs. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there have been a few cases of these animals contracting COVID when in close proximity with an infected human. “To protect your pet from the COVID-19 virus, don’t let your dog or cat interact with people or animals outside your household.” the CDC recommends. They also suggest avoiding dog parks, always using a leash when outdoors, and keeping your pet at least six feet away from others in public.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) viruses aren’t new infections for hamsters. Syrian hamsters were proven able to contract SARS around 15 years ago, and now it seems they are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 as well. Their COVID symptoms are similar to those in humans, including fatigue and shortness of breath. This means studying how hamsters recover from coronavirus may help scientists find more and better ways to heal the virus in humans.
Respiratory diseases have been studied in ferrets for many years, as they are prone to catching them pretty easily. COVID-19 is no exception. The ferret is another animal that can contract the virus and suffer similar symptoms as humans do. Studies with nasal sprays are helping scientists determine how they can help ferrets — and hopefully people — block the infection entirely. First test results are promising, but as with most COVID treatments more testing is needed.
For now, it’s important to keep the animals around us in mind as people take precautions to stop coronavirus spread.Related: 10 Signs You’ve Already Had COVID-19