Surveillance for new COVID variants in wildlife is ‘now critical’

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April 12, 2022 — The CDC encourages health authorities to put more emphasis on regularly tracking the spread of the coronavirus in animals and monitoring new variants that could mutate in wildlife and spread to humans.

In updated tipsThe CDC removed previous recommendations to “avoid routine animal testing” and instead said state public health veterinarians, state animal health officials, and state health specialists wildlife could test pets, livestock, zoo animals or wild animals “as part of an epidemiological investigation” of the coronavirus.

The guidance emphasizes a “One Health” approach, which emphasizes how human health relates to animal health and the environment.

“A primary concern for the CDC, One Health, is the creation of a North American animal reservoir in which the virus could ‘hide out’, mutate and potentially re-emerge as a new variant in the human population,” said said CDC spokeswoman Jasmine Reed. told CBS News.

The World Health Organization has published similar recommendations in early March, which encouraged countries to monitor COVID-19 infections in wildlife and prevent the formation of animal reservoirs. In the United States, for example, wild white-tailed deer have been infected by human-to-deer transmission, and virus lineages detected in deer have recirculated to nearby human populations, primarily in northern states.

“Current knowledge indicates that wildlife does not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations may affect the health of those populations and may facilitate the emergence of new variants of the virus,” the WHO wrote. , referring to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture blood samples tested from white-tailed deer in 32 counties in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania and found coronavirus antibodies in 33% of samples. None of the deer showed signs of disease when sampled.

The USDA also supports other research projects to build “an early warning system for SARS-CoV-2 and other animal diseases,” which includes testing rats and raccoons around sewer systems in New York, monitoring farms of minks and collecting samples from zoos and aquariums across the country.

“These and other wildlife surveillance projects are important because scientists estimate that three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from animals,” said Lyndsay Cole, spokesperson for the inspection service. USDA Animal and Plant Health, to CBS News.

Isolated cases of COVID-19 have been found in hundreds of animals across the country, including pets, livestock and zoo animals. But the inspection service nationwide tally shows that wild cases have so far only been identified among deer and mink.

Over the past few months, wildlife and public health officials from state and federal agencies have met to discuss ways to track and respond to the coronavirus in wildlife, resulting in updated guidelines from the CDC, CBS News reported. States can make their own decisions about what to do, which could include increased wildlife monitoring or placing limits on the feeding or handling of certain animals such as wild deer.

“Given the current state of our knowledge of the pandemic, we have updated [the guidance] to reflect that surveillance efforts are now essential for the early detection and prevention of the spread of the virus from animals, especially wildlife, to humans,” Reed told CBS News.

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