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Recommendations for the epidemiological investigation of SARS-CoV-2 in exposed animals

SARS-CoV-2 detection in farmed and companion animals











FAO. 2021. Recommendations for the epidemiological investigation of SARSCoV-2 in exposed animals – SARS-CoV-2 detection in farmed and companion animals. FAO Animal Health Risk Analysis – Management, No. 2. Rome.



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    Dromedary camels are the main reservoir for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Genetic analysis of MERS-CoV isolates from humans and dromedaries revealed that direction of transmission is from camels to humans. Furthermore, several studies reported evidence of camel infection by other human CoVs, animal CoVs or unknown coronaviruses. There is evidence of recombination between different betacoronaviruses in camels. Analysis of the Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptor (ACE2) binding in dromedaries predicted potential binding affinity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) receptor binding domain (RBD), however some other studies predicted the contrary. With the pandemic spread of SARS-CoV-2, it is not a matter of if but rather when camels will be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in these countries. Co-circulation of both viruses in the same host can favour virus recombination, and may lead to increased virulence in animals and/or humans if the recombinant virus incorporates pathogenicity of MERS-CoV with the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2. Further investigations into camel susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the possibility for recombination between MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses in camels, and the associated zoonotic potential are therefore urgently required to ensure early-detection of such events.
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    SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in humans in December 2019 and has since affected almost 68 million people causing over 1.5 million deaths worldwide. Animal-to-human and animal-to-animal transmission has been documented within farmed minks in several countries. SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in a farmed mink population in a number of countries. Some of the affected farms reported also workers SARS-CoV-2 infection and it is hypothesized that the mink farms were infected through human-mink transmission proving SARS-CoV-2 capability of reverse zoonosis. This Tripartite Risk Assessment, as a joint effort under the GLEWS+ initiative, completed with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), evaluates the risk of introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2 within fur farming systems as well as whether farmed fur animals could play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to humans via spillover. Additionally, using a One Health approach, the Tripartite evaluated the risk of the escaped minks leading to the establishment of a viral reservoir in susceptible wildlife populations. This work provides guidance to Members on this newly emerging threat.
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    In December 2019, China reported cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause in Wuhan City. The causative agent was later attributed to a novel coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2. The virus quickly spread and became a global health threat, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020 and as a pandemic in March 2020. The outbreak was believed to be associated with a wet market in Wuhan where seafood and wild animals were sold. This was corroborated by environmental samples from the market that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The SARS-CoV-2 was suspected to have originated in bats and spread among humans, yet the transmission through livestock was believed possible. Some companion animals, such as dogs, cats and ferrets, have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after close contact with infected humans. However, it is unclear whether these animals played a role in the spread of the virus among humans. In light of the One Health approach, there was a need to strengthen the capacities of animal health services to detect, prevent and manage the likely transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at the animal–human interface. The Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is well positioned to provide technical and operational support, in collaboration with FAO headquarters and ECTAD country teams, to address the impact of COVID-19 on food security, livelihoods related to livestock and the animal–human interface.

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