COVID-19 is the disease caused by a coronavirus (CoV) named SARS-CoV2. Coronavirus (CoV) infections are common in animals and humans. Some strains of CoV are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans.
In 2019, the new CoV (SARS-COV-2) was identified as the causative agent of human cases of pneumonia by authorities (P.R. China). Since then, human cases of COVID-19 have been reported by almost all countries around the world and the COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
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.
Investigations led by the WHO and in close cooperation with P.R. China, are underway to find the source to determine how the virus entered the human population, and to establish the potential role of animals in this disease.
Yes, several animal species have demonstrated susceptibility to the virus through experimental infection, and in natural settings when in contact with infected humans. Infection of animal with SARS-CoV-2 may have implications for animals health and welfare, for wildlife conservation, and for biomedical research. Up to date information on the susceptibility of different animal species can be found here.
Infections in animals are not the driver of the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are valid concerns about the establishment of SARS-CoV-2 reservoirs in wild or domestic animals. Farmed mink are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, in some cases, they have transmitted the virus back to humans.
As general good practice, appropriate and effective biosecurity measures should always be applied when people have contact with groups of animals, e.g. on farms, at zoos, and in animal shelters. People who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus should minimise close direct contact with animals.
Veterinary Services should protect animal health and welfare, and consequently public health, by implementing effective risk management measures to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and susceptible animals.
The infection of animals with COVID-19 virus meets the criteria of an emerging disease . Consequently, any (case of) infection of animals with SARS-CoV-2 should be reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) through the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) in accordance with the WOAH Terrestrial Animal Health Code.
WOAH is in contact with Regional Representations and Sub Regional Representations, Delegates of Member Countries, Wildlife Working Group, as well as FAO and WHO, to gather and share the latest available information. WOAH 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 organisation 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.
An Incident Coordination System is in place to coordinate these activities. WOAH is working with its Wildlife Working Group and other partners to develop a longer term work programme which aims to better understand the dynamics and risks around wildlife trade and consumption, with a view to developing strategies to reduce the risk of future disease spillover events.