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COVID-19 in wildlife may lead to emergence of new virus variants – WHO

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THE World Health Organisation (WHO) says the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.

  In a joint statement, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the World Health Organisation said the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs.

  “Although the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is also known to infect animal species.  

  Current knowledge indicates that wildlife does not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.

  “In addition to domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have thus far been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. To date, farmed mink and pet hamsters have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a potential case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human is currently under review.

  “The introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs. For example, it has been reported that approximately one-third of wild white-tailed deer in the United States of America have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, initially via several human-to-deer transmission events,” the statement read in part.

  It added that the SARS-CoV-2 lineages detected in white-tailed deer have also been circulating in close-by human populations. White-tailed deer have been shown to shed virus and transmit it to each other.

  However, FAO, OIE, and WHO call on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and protecting both humans and wildlife.

  They urged authorities to adopt relevant regulations and disseminate previously released recommendations by FAO, OIE, and WHO to people working in close contact with or handling wildlife, including hunters and butchers; and the public.

  “Personnel working closely with wildlife should be trained to implement measures that reduce the risk of transmission between people and between people and animals, using WHO advice on how to protect oneself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and OIE and FAO guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment and good hygiene practices around animals, including good hygiene practices for hunters and butchers,” they said.

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