| 7.2°C Dublin

Threat Zoos and pets 'may act as breeding grounds' for viruses that could infect humans, says study

The focus during this pandemic has been on the risks of wet markets and the international wildlife trade, but animals closer to home could also pose a similar threat

Close

One of the two Sumatran tigers recovering from Covid at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta

One of the two Sumatran tigers recovering from Covid at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta

One of the two Sumatran tigers recovering from Covid at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta

Animals in zoos and pets should be taken more seriously as "breeding grounds" for viruses that could infect humans, according to a paper in a leading journal.

The focus during this pandemic has been on the risks of wet markets and the international wildlife trade for causing "spillover" events, but animals closer to home could also pose a similar threat, according to the paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

"Domesticated animals in high-income countries are as much a threat as the oft-cited wildlife in wet markets or equatorial rainforests," write the paper's authors, led by Dr Gemma Bowsher of King's College London.

The paper argues better surveillance and testing of animal populations could be as important as an early-warning sign for the next zoonotic disease, the term for pathogens that cross from animals to humans.

Other than for livestock, there are few systems that provide these signals for domestic animals, the team writes.

During the Covid pandemic, there have been numerous reports of pets and zoo animals getting infected, from a dog in Hong Kong in February last year - to two Sumatran tigers currently recovering in Jakarta Zoo in Indonesia.

Denmark culled millions of mink last year after discovering a variant of the coronavirus within the farmed populations had some worrying mutations.

The paper suggests animals in shelters are another high-risk population, because of their susceptibility to infection while in a high-stress, cramped environment.

The researchers point to a 2017 outbreak of H7N2 bird flu in New York cat shelters, that infected 300 animals - the first known example of the virus in cats - and crossed into people, as an example of their thesis.

Dr Bowsher said the veterinary and medical communities needed to work together to detect potential zoonotic events earlier.

She accepted setting up a surveillance system would be complex and pose difficult questions for governments regarding restrictions if pathogens with spillover potential were identified.

However, other experts said the chances of pets infecting humans remained small.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the paper, said: "While we can never rule out potential spillover events from any animal reservoir, the chances of there being a virus with spillover potential in non-exotic pets and other domesticated animals is lower than wildlife.

"We have been living in close proximity to these animals for a long time and so any likely spillovers would have already occurred," he added.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy