In early May, Asian lions at Hyderabad Zoo (Nehru Zoological Park) tested positive for Covid. At the time, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change said the infection was not caused by any variant of concern. The ministry said the eight lions that had been infected were isolated. They responded positively to treatment and made a good recovery.
Testing at Nehru Zoological Park was carried out by the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad after zoo officials noticed that a pack of lions were showing signs of a dry cough, runny nose, and loss of appetite. âIf animal-to-animal transmission occurs, it will likely affect zoo animals much more than free range animals. Animals outside do not live in the type of density that zoo animals reside in, âsaid CCMB adviser Dr Rakesh Mishra.
The second wave of the pandemic in India has already caused enough panic. It may seem like a stretch to start worrying about animals as well. Hopefully, there is no need to worry about the transmission of the virus from humans to animals or vice versa. But being complacent and ignoring a possible risk won’t help.
While captive wild animals can be infected with the virus, the risk to nearly 130 crore of domesticated livestock and poultry in the country is of concern. Dr Mishra said the risk to animals living nearby is greater than the risk to animals in the wild. Cattle live in a similar density on dairy farms. Any significant risk to their health can sound the alarm.
Millions of households in the country depend on the livestock sector and industry. (Photo: Reuters)
The infection spread in captive wild animals should certainly serve as a red flag for a serious problem. Millions of households in the country depend on the livestock sector and industry. The livestock sector alone contributes 30 percent of India’s agricultural GDP.
The MoEFCC has categorically stated that there is no risk of humans being infected from animals. The ministry also clarified that there is no factual evidence that animals can transmit the disease to humans.
These words may be courageous, but on what basis can these claims be substantiated? It is now known worldwide that the Coronavirus is not contained by any geographic border. It does not distinguish between hot and cold regions. The virus has been shown to have been transferred from wild animals to humans. Research has widely indicated that the transfer occurred from a bat. In a bizarre twist, we have reason to be afraid of a possible scenario where humans could infect animals.
In Denmark, mutations of the virus have been observed in mink. Humans are not susceptible to most of these mutations. But 12 people in Denmark have been infected with a particular mutation occurring in mink called Cluster 5. It has also been reported that more than 200 people have contracted the strains of the virus found in mink. Any new prevalence of this virus can interfere with the effectiveness of a Covid vaccine. Fears of further transmission from animals to humans or from humans to animals cannot be brushed under the rug.
The intention is not to cause panic. The intention is to report concerns and be aware of the risks our livestock may face. We need to be aware of the Covid risk that the livestock sector may face. People who are positive for Covid must distance themselves from their pets. As Covid spreads to villages in India, farmers raising dairy, poultry, goats or other animals should stay away from animals or birds during infection. This must be practice until we have conclusive evidence that Covid does not spread from humans to pets or from pets to humans.
Globally, psychologists and other mental health specialists have expressed concern about the consequences of the isolation imposed by Covid on people. It has been recognized that during this confinement to very limited interaction, pets offer great therapeutic benefits.
In mid-February, the College of Veterinary Science (CVS) at Ohio State University said that Covid-19 is spread from person to person and the risk to animals is very low and the risk to animals is even weaker. âThere is no reason to harm wildlife or abandon a pet out of fear, and luckily that doesn’t appear to be a problem in the United States. In fact, more and more people are welcoming or adopting cats and dogs during the pandemic. The relationship with a pet can be a great source of comfort, helping to reduce depression, anxiety and stress, âthe CVS report said.
But the jury is still out on the risk of coronavirus for the animal world. In March, the United States’ Center for Disease Control (CDC) warned that a small number of pets around the world, including cats and dogs, had reportedly been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 , mainly after close contact with people. Infected animals may become ill or have no symptoms. Of the animals that became ill, most had mild illness and made a full recovery.
The CDC’s advice to protect pets is the same that has been advised for humans. According to the CDC, one must maintain a social distance from pets if one is infected. âIf you have pets, treat them as you would other members of the human family to protect them from possible Covid-19 infection. Because there is a risk that people with Covid-19 transmit the virus to animals, pet owners should limit their pet’s interactions with people outside their homes, âthe CDC said.
This is not the first case where animals have tested positive for Covid. In early April last year, a four-year-old Malaysian tigress tested positive for Covid at the Bronx Zoo in New York. The zoo later confirmed that four more tigers and three lions had the virus. Around the same time, two cats from New York were the first in the United States to test positive.
The CDC said categorically, âWe are still learning about this virus, but we know that it can spread from humans to animals in certain situations, especially in close contact. We know that pets like cats and dogs, big cats in zoos or sanctuaries, gorillas in zoos, minks on farms and a few other mammals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but we do not yet know all the animals that can be infected. Animals infected with the virus have been reported around the world. Most of these animals became infected after contact with people with Covid-19. “
Caution is in order.
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