Can animals spread COVID? Researchers study disease to identify source of future pandemic threats

Researchers are studying COVID-19 in animals and the environment to identify the potential source of future pandemic threats.
Researchers are studying COVID-19 in animals and the environment to identify the potential source of future pandemic threats.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ivanhoe Newswire) – As the number of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. continues to go down, scientists are turning their attention to learning more about the origin of the virus. Researchers are also studying the disease in other animals and the environment to identify the potential source of future pandemic threats.

A tiger at a New York Zoo. Gorillas in San Diego. And a handful of companion pets, like cats and dogs, have all tested positive for the COVID virus.

“We know that this virus can jump species and what we want to know next, or be able to tell as early as possible, is what other species can it be in?” questioned Vanessa Hale, PhD, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hale and a team of microbiologists and other scientists are part of eScout. The goal is to identify the virus in different animals and determine if those animals are harboring mutations that could spread COVID back to humans.

“We’re testing deer squirrels, mink, rabbits and working closely with a lot of different community members, including other veterinarians and veterinary clinics to test things like ferrets as well. We’re also testing pigs at agricultural fairs. So, state and county fairs where pigs may be coming together for shows,” continued Hale.

The scientists are also monitoring wastewater and urban runoff for the Sars-Cov-2 virus to determine what strain of the virus is circulating. Researchers say environmental surveillance will be important in long-term COVID prevention measures.

Professor Hale says scientists have found that the rates of animal transmission are very low with the exception of minks---which are in the same family as otters and weasels. Hale says COVID seems to transmit more easily from minks to people, and from people back to minks.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Bob Walko, Editor.