How to prevent further spread of SARS CoV-2 in zoo, captive wild animals?
New Delhi, June 19: Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 , there have been few reported instances of animals being infected with the virus, usually transmitted by humans. But, the recent spike in coronavirus cases among animals has created a kind of panic.
While there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can transmit from pets to people, it is necessary for us to be cautious, as we are still unknown about covid mutation and how far this virus can go killing the lives of animals and people.
In a bid to contain, covid spread among animals, the Central Zoo Authority has come up with a set of Standard Operating Procedure for safe and efficient collection, packing, and transport of samples of zoo animals for Covid-19 testing.
What is SARS-CoV-2?
SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family of coronaviruses that are known to infect mammals and birds. They do not always cause disease; many infected animals and birds are reservoirs. Reservoirs may show no disease symptoms, and appear perfectly healthy.
Where has SARS-CoV-2 come from?
The origin of SARS-CoV-2 still remains debatable. Most of the evidence suggests the mutant strains of virus originated from bats or pangolins, and a spillover event caused infection in humans.
Which animals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2?
In the last one year there have been reports of wild animals across the globe getting infected with SARS-CoV-2. These include non-human primates such as gorillas, large felids such as tigers, lions, pumas, cougars and snow leopards, and mustelids like ferrets, minks in an animal farm.
Experimental research and reports also show that many mammals, including cats, dogs, bank voles, ferrets, fruit bats, hamsters, mink, pigs, rabbits, raccoon dogs, tree shrews, and white-tailed deer can be infected with the virus.
Can these animals spread the SARS-CoV-2 infection back to humans?
Current studies do not indicate that animals spread infection back to humans.
How do I know if the animals have gotten the SARS-CoV-2 infection?
SARS-CoV-2 symptoms in animals may include lack of appetite, anorexia, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, fever, respiratory distress. If any or all the above symptoms are noticed, then samples must be collected and sent immediately for diagnostics including RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2.
What food and medicine should I give to the animals until their test results arrive?
The decision is to be made by the Veterinarian-in-charge of the care of animals in the facility. There is no specific treatment regime standardised for SARS-COV-2 infection in wild animals. Symptomatic treatment is currently the preferred approach. Feed the animals their regular diet and with proper hygienic precautions: washing of meat with clean, running water at least two times and followed by a single wash with hot water, using a gentle stream for 2-3 minutes before feeding.
How should I store and stock food for the animals in case of a crisis?
Wash the meat thoroughly with hot water and then store in the cold storage. Procure the essential medicines, feed/water supplements well in advance.
What should be done to prevent the further spread of SARS CoV-2 in captive wild animals?
- Separate the non-infected animals immediately from the suspected/infected animals. Keep the suspected/infected animals in open spaces, or spacious enclosures with good ventilation or in alternate cages.
- Clean their water tubs daily with appropriate disinfectant. Use separate cleaning material (buckets/mugs/brushes, floor mops /wipers etc.) for suspected/infected animals.
- The cleaning material should be disinfected after their use and dried in sunlight.
- Isolate the suspected/infected animal from other animals.
- Provide appropriate diet and feed/water supplements that increase immunity to captive animals.
Wash food, especially meat, with hot water for 2-3 min before feeding the animals.
- Persons handling the feed should strictly follow all COVID-19 precautions.
- Incinerate the leftover meat and fecal material from the animal enclosures.
- Monitor their health closely by keeping a log of food intake, urination, defaecation, activity and looking for any abnormal behaviour and respiratory symptoms.
- Do not cause the animals to become agitated or aggressive as this might promote spread of virus by aerosol to other animals.
- Do not move animals across zoos during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For zoo staff:
- Minimise contact between zoo-keepers and animals (both captive and free-ranging). We know that many human beings are asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
- Assign different animal keepers and caregivers for infected and non infected animals.
- Inform the concerned zoo veterinarian/officer immediately if any signs of illness are noticed.
- Test animal keepers and animal care staff including veterinarians regularly even if they don't show symptoms.
Animal handlers should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
- Face Shield, Face mask, N-95 mask, head cover, goggles, hand gloves, shoe cover and coverall or gown when they go to animal enclosures.
- Encourage staggered working hours for the workers at the zoo.
- Maintain physical distancing among the workers at the zoo.
- Ensure vaccination of zoo staff, forest frontline staff and forest fringe communities on priority.
Form COVID response teams (covid-free Veterinarian, Assistant Curator (ACF level officer), zoo keeper and helper) within the set-up so that there is swift action, proper implementation of COVID precautions and continuous monitoring.