Don’t panic, experts say after COVID-19 animal killings

Animal disease specialists are seeking to calm fears that domestic livestock and pets can spread coronavirus, as lockdowns make protein sources scarce in some lower-income countries.

In many societies, chickens, cows and other animals are kept at home for eggs, milk and meat. Recent reports that cats and tigers have contracted COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 — have sparked fears that agricultural and companion animals could be next.

China was already struggling with protein shortages, as African swine fever led to a cull of 40 per cent of the country’s pigs last year, before millions of chickens were slaughtered because of feed shortages caused by coronavirus lockdown restrictions.*

In Lebanon, municipalities and individuals have been accused of leaving poisoned meat in the streets to kill dogs because of coronavirus fears and economic pressures, prompting welfare group Animals Lebanon to issue advice on identifying sources and symptoms of poisoning.

“From a farming perspective, there don’t seem to be any human to animal — anthropo-zoonotic —cases despite the fact it came from animals originally.”

Eric Fèvre,  International Livestock Research Institute

Eric Fèvre, professor of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool and jointly appointed at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, says a dairy industry representative in neighbouring Tanzania asked for advice over concerns that people could infect cows with coronavirus.

Fèvre says people should not be concerned about their domestic livestock becoming a COVID-19 source.

“From a farming perspective, there don’t seem to be any anthropo-zoonotic cases despite the fact it came from animals originally,” he says.

Germany’s national institute for animal health, the Friedrich-Löffler-Institut, is testing the susceptibility of animals to SARS-CoV-2, with final results and analysis expected at the beginning of May. The findings so far, that pigs and chickens in particular are not susceptible to the virus, tally with other recent studies.

Researchers in China found that SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, but efficiently in ferrets and cats. The study, currently a preprint that has not yet been certified by peer review, found that cats were able to transmit infection to other cats in the laboratory, but Fèvre says there is so far no evidence that humans can acquire COVID-19 from cats.

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