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Friday, November 12, 2021

Wildlife and household pets catch COVID from humans

Get your damned shots!

By Will Collette

Research is trending toward the conclusion that while COVID-19 may no longer rage as a pandemic or even an epidemic, the virus may instead become "endemic." That means COVID can stick around indefinitely, flaring up occasionally or in regular cycles like the flu.

Endemic COVID finds host populations, such as our notorious pockets of covidiots such as counties that voted for Donald Trump, or in wild or domesticated animals.

Two articles on recent research studies came out within 24 hours of each other that discuss findings of COVID-19 in animals. I am reprinting both of them, below.

The first is a study that found that 80% of white-tail deer, so common in our area, tested positive for COVID. The second is a study that examines serious heart problems caused by COVID in cats and dogs. 

We've known almost since the beginning of the pandemic that some domestic animals can catch COVID, but not how badly it can sicken them. We know that animals - wild or companion animals - can catch COVID from us but the research is unclear whether COVID can jump back to us. So far, that seems unlikely, but the research is on-going.

Here is the first of the two articles, the one on deer. Please be sure to also read the one on dogs and cats.

Over 80% of Deer in Study Test Positive for COVID

They May Be a Reservoir for the Virus To Continually Circulate


Photo by Will Collette
Researchers found that more than 80% of the white-tailed deer sampled in different parts of Iowa between December 2020 and January 2021 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

More than 80% percent of the white-tailed deer sampled in different parts of Iowa between December 2020 and January 2021 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2

The percentage of SARS-CoV-2 positive deer increased throughout the study, with 33% of all deer testing positive. The findings suggest that white-tailed deer may be a reservoir for the virus to continually circulate and raise concerns of emergence of new strains that may prove a threat to wildlife and, possibly, to humans. 

“This is the first direct evidence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in any free-living species, and our findings have important implications for the ecology and long-term persistence of the virus,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, Huck Chair in Emerging Infectious Diseases, clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, and associate director of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, Penn State. 

“These include spillover to other free-living or captive animals and potential spillback to human hosts. Of course, this highlights that many urgent steps are needed to monitor the spread of the virus in deer and prevent spillback to humans.”

According to Vivek Kapur, Huck Distinguished Chair in Global Health and professor of microbiology and infectious diseases, Penn State, while no evidence exists that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted from deer to humans, he believes hunters and those living in close proximity to deer may want to take precautions, including during contact with or handling the animals, by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Kapur.

Previous research by the USDA showed that 40% of white-tailed deer had antibodies against the coronavirus; however, Kuchipudi and his colleagues note that those antibodies only indicated indirect exposure to SARS-CoV-2 or an immunologically related organism and did not prove infection with SARS-CoV-2 or the ability to transmit the virus onwards.  

In this new study — which posted on the pre-print server bioRxiv on November 1 and will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal — the team examined nearly 300 samples collected from deer across the state of Iowa during the peak of human COVID-19 infection in 2020. 

The samples — extracted from deer retropharyngeal lymph nodes, which are located in the head and neck — had been collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as part of its routine statewide Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance program. The team tested the samples for SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA using a real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay, which provides direct evidence of infection with the virus.

“We found that 80% of the sampled deer in December were positive for SARS-CoV-2, which proportionally represents about a 50-fold greater burden of positivity than what was reported at the peak of infection in humans at the time,” said Kuchipudi. 

“The number of SARS-CoV-2 positive deer increased over the period from April to December 2020, with the greatest increases coinciding with the peak of deer hunting season last year.”

The team also sequenced the complete genomes of all the positive samples from the deer and identified 12 SARS-CoV-2 lineages, with B.1.2 and B.1.311 accounting for about 75% of all samples.

“The viral lineages we identified correspond to the same lineages circulating in humans at that time,” said Kapur. “The fact that we found several different SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating within geographically confined herds across the state suggests the occurrence of multiple independent spillover events from humans to deer, followed by local deer-to-deer transmission. This also raises the possibility of the spillback from deer back to humans, especially in exurban areas with high deer densities.”

Kuchipudi added, “The research highlights the critical need to urgently implement surveillance programs to monitor SARS-CoV-2 spread within the deer and other susceptible wildlife species and put into place methods to mitigate potential spillback.” 

Reference: “Multiple spillovers and onward transmission of SARS-Cov-2 in free-living and captive White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)” by Suresh V. Kuchipudi, Meera Surendran-Nair, Rachel M. Ruden, Michelle Yon, Ruth H. Nissly, Rahul K. Nelli, Lingling Li, Bhushan M. Jayarao, Kurt J. Vandegrift, Costas D. Maranas, Nicole Levine, Katriina Willgert, Andrew J. K. Conlan, Randall J. Olsen, James J. Davis, James M. Musser, Peter J. Hudson and Vivek Kapur, 1 November 2021, bioRxiv.
DOI: 10.1101/2021.10.31.466677

COVID Alpha Variant Detected in Dogs and Cats

Pets Had Acute Onset of Cardiac Disease, Including Severe Myocarditis


She does not want your COVID cooties, thank you very much
(Photo by Will Collette)
A new study in the Veterinary Record reveals that pets can be infected with the alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans), which was first detected in southeast England and is commonly known as the UK variant or B.1.1.7. 

This variant rapidly outcompeted pre-existing variants in England due to its increased transmissibility and infectivity. 

The study describes the first identification of the SARS-CoV-2 alpha variant in domestic pets; two cats and one dog were positive on PCR test, while two additional cats and one dog displayed antibodies two to six weeks after they developed signs of cardiac disease. 

Many owners of these pets had developed respiratory symptoms several weeks before their pets became ill and had also tested positive for COVID-19.  

All of these pets had an acute onset of cardiac disease, including severe myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).

A new study in the Veterinary Record reveals that pets can be infected with the alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2. Credit: Dr. Ferasin

“Our study reports the first cases of cats and dogs affected by the COVID-19 alpha variant and highlights, more than ever, the risk that companion animals can become infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said lead author Luca Ferasin, DVM, PhD, of The Ralph Veterinary Referral Centre, in the UK. 

“We also reported the atypical clinical manifestations characterized by severe heart abnormalities, which is a well-recognized complication in people affected by COVID-19 but has never described in pets before. However, COVID-19 infection in pets remains a relatively rare condition and, based on our observations, it seems that the transmission occurs from humans to pets, rather than vice versa.”

Reference: “Infection with SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 detected in a group of dogs and cats with suspected myocarditis” by Luca Ferasin, Matthieu Fritz, Heidi Ferasin, Pierre Becquart, Sandrine Corbet, Meriadeg Ar Gouilh, Vincent Legros and Eric M. Leroy, 4 November 2021, Veterinary Record.
DOI: 10.1002/vetr.944