Researchers urge caution around wildlife to prevent spread of coronavirus

7 Oct 2020

Image: Sophie Gryseels

Researchers have warned people to take precautions when in direct or indirect contact with wildlife due to the risk of passing on the coronavirus.

Species already under threat could be further impacted by contracting the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) from humans, according to an international team of researchers. Writing in Mammal Review, the authors noted that if the virus was to infect and spread among wild mammals, it could help spread the disease in new populations.

Also, if the virus could be sustainably transmitted among some mammalian populations or communities, this would create new animal reservoirs that could repeatedly cause new outbreaks in humans and other animals.

“As demonstrated by several observations of humans transmitting SARS‐CoV‐2 to felids, dogs and mink, and by numerous animal and in-vitro infection experiments, it is clear the virus is able to infect and be transmitted among a wide range of distantly related mammal species,” the authors wrote.

‘We can’t ask animals to wear face masks’

In response, the team called on people to take extra precautions when in direct or indirect contact with wild or feral animals to prevent human-to-wildlife transmission.

Lead author of the paper, Sophie Gryseels of the University of Antwerp and the University of Arizona, said: “It’s difficult enough to control the SARS-CoV-2 in human populations – imagine what it will be like if it spreads among wild mammals.

“They could also get sick and form a reservoir from which they can then again infect humans, but we can’t ask animals to wear face masks and keep physical distance.”

It follows research published to Scientific Reports last week that warned 28 mammals may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Researchers from Imperial College London looked at whether mutations in the ACE2 protein in 215 different animals would reduce the stability of the binding complex between the virus protein and host protein.

This showed that in animals such as sheep and great apes, the virus proteins would bind just as strongly as they do when SARS-CoV-2 infects people.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic