JOHANNESBURG – The lions at the South African zoo have been caught Coronavirus The virus is spreading among animals in the wild, according to a new study, whose handlers have been sick for more than three weeks and continue to test positive for up to seven. week.
It is unclear how much virus the lions were carrying or whether they were actively contagious during the time they tested positive. The extended duration of infection in big cats increases the risk of disease outbreaks in the wild that could spread more widely and infect other species, the researchers said. . That could eventually make the virus endemic to wildlife species, and in the worst case, give rise to new variants that could return to humans.
Research at the University of Pretoria possibly the first of its kind in Africa. Researchers began tracking wildlife in captivity in zoos and sanctuaries after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo ill with coronavirus in April 2020, according to Professor Marietjie Venter, the study’s principal investigator.
The team tracked two pandas with coronavirus at a private zoo in July 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic in South Africa. Pumas, which are not native to South Africa, started showing symptoms, including loss of appetite, diarrhea, runny nose and persistent cough. Both cats made a full recovery after 23 days.
About a year later at the same zoo, three lions started showing similar symptoms. One of the lionesses, an older female, had pneumonia. The lion handler and an engineer at the zoo also tested positive for the virus.
This time, the researchers were able to sequence the samples and discovered that the lions and their handlers were infected with the same Delta variant. The disease developed by lions, especially in older females, suggests that animals, like humans, can develop severe symptoms due to Delta, which led to the pandemic wave. South Africa’s deadliest.
The lions recovered after 25 days, but had positive PCR test results for more than three additional weeks. PCR tests amplify the genetic material of the virus and can therefore detect even very small amounts. The data showed that the amount of virus carried by the lions decreased during those weeks, and it is unclear how long they were infectious for exactly.
In captivity, the animals are kept in isolation, but in the larger parks dotted around South Africa, where lions are a popular public attraction, controlling an outbreak can prove fatal. proved “very very difficult”, the study said, especially if it went undetected. . These lions are often fed by humans rather than hunted on their own, increasing their exposure.
“If you don’t know that it is Covid, there is a risk that it could spread to other animals and then potentially back to humans,” said Dr. Venter, professor of medical virology who collaborated with with a veterinary wildlife scientist for the study. “The animals have been infected long enough,” she said, for the virus to actually undergo mutations, but the risk is more if you’re in a wildlife sanctuary and it spreads into nature. However, it can become endemic”.
The coronavirus that causes a global pandemic that likely originated in bats and eventually moved on to humans, is known as a “spreading” infection.
Scientists warn that “reflex” infections from humans to animals – as happened to ferrets, deer and domestic cats – can wreak havoc on entire ecosystems in the wild. Infection in the wild could also widen the virus’ ability to spread unchecked and mutate in animals, potentially into variants that are dangerous to humans.
A well-studied phenomenon includes infection among large populations of mink in captivity. On a ferret farm in Denmark, the virus mutated into a new strain during its transition from humans to ferrets, causing the animals to be slaughtered across that country and Europe to prevent the spread of the virus. spread back to people.
In contrast, the South African study involved small outbreaks, but Dr Venter noted that spread in ferrets suggests the potential danger of larger outbreaks in wildlife.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/20/world/africa/lions-covid-south-african-zoo.html The lions are infected with anxiety about the spread of the virus in the wild