Coronavirus (CoV) infections are common in animals and humans. Some strains of CoV are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans, but many strains are not zoonotic.
In December 2019, human cases of pneumonia of unknown origin were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China (People’s Rep. of). A new CoV was identified as the causative agent by Chinese Authorities. Since then, human cases have been reported by almost all countries around the world and the COVID-19 event has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a pandemic.
The CoV which causes COVID-19 has been named as SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV); this is the scientific name. The virus may also be referred to as “the COVID-19 virus” or “the virus responsible for COVID-19”. COVID19 refers to the disease caused by the virus.
The current pandemic is being sustained through human to human transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from an animal source. Genetic sequence data reveals that SARS-CoV-2 is a close relative of other CoV found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (Horseshoe Bat) populations. However, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source of SARS-CoV-2 or to explain the original route of transmission to humans (which may have involved an intermediate host).
Investigations are needed to find the source, to determine how the virus entered the human population, and to establish the potential role of animals in this disease.
Priorities for research to investigate the animal source were discussed by the OIE ad hoc Group on COVID-19 at the Animal- Human Interface, and were presented at the WHO Global Research and Innovation Forum (11-12 February 2020) by the President of the OIE Wildlife Working Group.
Now that SARS-CoV-2 infections are widely distributed in the human population, there is a possibility for certain animal species to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Infection of animals with SARS-CoV-2 may have implications for animal health and welfare, for wildlife conservation, and for biomedical research.
Cats (domestic and large cats), minks and dogs have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the field setting, following contact with humans known or suspected to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Studies are underway to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to SARS-CoV-2 and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species.
Although several animal species have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, these infections are not a driver of the COVID-19 pandemic; the pandemic is driven by human to human transmission. There is no evidence that companion animals are playing an epidemiological role in the spread of human infection with SARS-CoV-2. However, reports from infected mink farms suggest that in these environments there is the possibility for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from mink to humans following infection of these animals.
Considering recent reports from the Netherlands, risk-based measures should be considered on mink farms to avoid the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 infection to the animals, to reduce the risk of subsequent spread between animals and to humans, and to reduce the risk of an animal reservoir being established.
There is no justification in taking measures directed at companion animals, which may compromise their welfare.
The infection of animals with COVID-19 virus meets the criteria of an emerging disease . Therefore, any (case of) infection of animals with SARS-CoV-2 (including information about the species, diagnostic test, and relevant epidemiological information) should be reported to the OIE in accordance with the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code.
The OIE is in contact with its Regional Representations and Sub Regional Representations, OIE Delegates of Member Countries, the OIE Wildlife Working Group, as well as FAO and WHO, to gather and share the latest available information. The OIE is closely liaising with its network of experts involved in current investigations on the source of the disease. Rumours and unofficial information are also monitored daily.
The OIE has mobilized several technical working groups (‘ad hoc groups’) to provide scientific advice on research priorities, on-going research, and other implications of COVID-19 for animal health and veterinary public health, including risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication. The OIE has also developed high level guidance for veterinary laboratories working with public health services to support testing of human samples for SARS-CoV-2.
The OIE has put in place an Incident Coordination System to coordinate these activities.