(Representative image) | Photo credit: iStock images
Hyderabad: COVID-19 was reported in zoo animals in India last month. The Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) at CSIR-Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad is one of four centers designated to test animal samples for possible coronavirus infection.
With support from the Central Zoo Authority and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, it has issued guidelines for frontline zoos on COVID-19 investigations in captive animals.
âThe guidelines provide detailed protocols that include images and frequently asked questions for easier understanding by those collecting samples for COVID testing in wildlife,â said Dr Vinay K Nandicoori, director of CSIR-CCMB.
LaCONES began testing animal samples for possible SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection in August 2020. Scientists found the first positive samples from Asian lions in Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad in April 2021.
Meanwhile, the LaCONES team tried to test for the coronavirus using different types of nasal, oropharyngeal, rectal, and fecal samples from the animals. LaCONES routinely tests wild animal samples using DNA-based molecular biology tools to resolve wildlife cases. These tests are very similar to those used for coronavirus tests.
âWe hope that our recommendations will help zoo staff collect and package samples appropriately before sending them to animal testing centers, make the process easier for zoos as well as testing centers. Considering how difficult it is to get animal samples, it is all the more important that we do most of the samples we get, âsaid Dr Karthikeyan Vasudevan, Scientist in Charge, LaCONES, CSIR-CCMB.
Over the past year, there have been reports of wildlife across the world infected with SARS-CoV-2. These include non-human primates such as gorillas, big cats such as tigers, lions, pumas, cougars and snow leopards, and mustelids such as ferrets, minks on an animal farm. .
Experimental research and reports also show that many mammals including cats, dogs, voles, ferrets, fruit bats, hamsters, mink, pigs, rabbits, raccoon dogs, shrews and white-tailed deer can be infected with the virus.
Can these animals transmit SARS-CoV-2 infection to humans?
Current studies do not indicate that animals transmit the infection to humans.
How do you know if animals have become infected with SARS-CoV-2?
Symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 in animals can include poor appetite, anorexia, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, fever, respiratory distress. If any or all of the above symptoms are noticed, samples should be collected and sent immediately for diagnostics, including RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2.
How to worry about collecting samples from an animal living in captivity to test for SARS-CoV-2 infection?
Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) before going to the animal pen. Collect nasal or oral swab samples if possible or nasal / saliva / fecal discharge samples or rectal swabs for COVID-19 testing. Use only sterile nylon or flocked polyester swabs for sample collection and store them in the VTM. DO NOT use cotton swabs.
How should individuals collect samples from a post-mortem examination to test for SARS-CoV-2 infection?
Collect samples as soon as possible after the animal’s death. Wear PPE before approaching the carcass. Take deep throat, nasopharyngeal, tracheal and lung samples.
How should people collect samples from a wild animal in the wild to test for SARS-CoV-2 infection?
Make repeated observations of the animal suspected of being infected. Mark any particular mark, scar, etc. for animal identification. Take videos of the animal and seek expert advice before taking further action. VTM nasal / oropharyngeal swabs should be collected and sent for further testing.
What food and medicine should I give the animals until their test results arrive?
The decision should be made by the veterinarian in charge of animal care in the establishment. There is no standardized specific treatment regimen for SARS-COV-2 infection in wildlife. Symptomatic treatment is currently the preferred approach. Feed the animals with their usual diet and with the appropriate hygienic precautions: washing the meat in clean running water at least twice and followed by a single washing in hot water, using a gentle jet for 2-3 minutes before feeding.