Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that have jumped from an animal (non-human) to humans. Each week, this page is updated with the latest zoonotic news and articles from around the world, including COVID-19. Please send all comments or suggestions to email@example.com.
Pat Fricano is a One Health Collaborator that organizes and compiles a weekly list of zoonotic disease updates. He has in excess of 30 combined years of work experience in environmental protection and environmental public health between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Health. In his current capacity as the Zoonotic Diseases Coordinator at the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, he tracks mosquito borne and other vector borne diseases.
Zoonotic Articles – Week of 1/10/2022
Massive New Bird Flu Outbreak Could be 2022’s Deadly Pandemic – 12/27/2021
Israel’s National Security Council has assumed control of a massive bird flu outbreak in the Galilee, which scientists warn could become a “mass disaster” for humans. Over half a billion migrating birds pass through the area every year, heading for warm African winters or balmy European summers, making this a catastrophic location for a major bird flu outbreak—right at the nexus of global avian travel. The virus can be deadly if it infects people. The World Health Organization says more than half of the confirmed 863 human cases it has tracked since 2003 proved fatal. Most strains or variants of avian flu, H5N1, are relatively difficult to transmit to people.
Yossi Leshem, one of Israel’s most renowned ornithologists, told The Daily Beast, however, that it is the ability of these viruses to mutate into new strains that poses such a threat, as we have seen with the coronavirus. “There could be a mutation that also infects people and turns into a mass disaster,” said Leshem, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun. So far, at least 5,400 wild cranes have died infected with the new H5N1 avian flu, which Israeli authorities fear could expand into a global emergency.
Of the 30,000 Eurasian cranes passing this winter at the Hula Nature Reserve, 17 percent are dead, and scientists fear the worst for their surviving brethren, at least 10,000 of which appear to be ailing. The infection of the cranes is the same strain of avian flu which infected chicken coops throughout northern Israel, and led to the cull in recent days of nearly 1 million birds. Israelis will be without their beloved chicken schnitzel—and without eggs—until a supply chain of imported birds is established.
The deaths of thousands of wild birds in the Hula Nature Reserve, one of the world’s premier bird sanctuaries, “is an extraordinary event with global ramifications,” warned Tel Aviv University Professor of Zoology Noga Kronfeld Shor in an interview with Reshet Bet Radio. Shor, who is also the chief scientist at Israel’s Ministry of the Environment, noted that the carcasses of other waterbirds, such as pelicans and egrets, have already been found.
Israelis have been warned not to approach any wild bird that looks sick, and not to touch any bird droppings. Yoav Motro, a specialist in vertebrates and locusts at Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, said that for now, H5N1 is presenting “like the opposite of COVID. Compared to COVID, the chances of [humans] catching this are very, very slight—but unlike COVID, the risks of dying from it if you do catch it are very high.” “It is a tragic ecological event,” he said. “And we simply do not know how it will end, or where it will lead.” “There is no way to know what is going to happen,” Motro said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “When you identify avian flu in chicken coops you kill all the chickens and disinfect the coops. In the wild, at this level of infection, I don't know where it will lead. I’m worried.”
Shalom Bar Tal, an experienced wildlife photographer, told The Daily Beast that he was one of the only people allowed nocturnal access to observe the dead and dying birds. “It could turn into an ecological disaster no less significant than the corona epidemic,” he said. For now, no Israeli is known to be infected with H5N1, but Israelis who were exposed to wild birds are taking the antiviral Tamiflu.
Both Motro and Bar Tal noted the heartrending scenes of weak, infected cranes leaning over their dead. Cranes mate for life and live-in strong family units, Motro said. “That means that when one dies, the rest of the family—I don’t know how to define it—but it mourns.” The cranes’ close physical proximity to one another and tight-knit family structure almost ensures, he said, that when one crane dies, “a close family member will be the next to die.” “There is no treatment,” he said, “no way to help.” We can only hope it doesn’t mutate and jump species.
MRSA Predates Clinical Use of Antibiotics – 1/5/2022
Staphylococcus aureus first developed resistance to the antibiotic methicillin around 200 years ago, according to a large international collaboration including the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Denmark’s Serum Statens Institut and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which has traced the genetic history of the bacteria. They were investigating the surprising discovery – from hedgehog surveys from Denmark and Sweden – that up to 60% of hedgehogs carry a type of MRSA called mecC-MRSA. The new study also found high levels of MRSA in swabs taken from hedgehogs across their range in Europe and New Zealand. The researchers believe that antibiotic resistance evolved in Staphylococcus aureus as an adaptation to having to exist side-by-side on the skin of hedgehogs with the fungus Trichophyton erinacei, which produces its own antibiotics. The resulting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is better known as the superbug MRSA. The discovery of this centuries-old antibiotic resistance predates antibiotic use in medical and agricultural settings.
“Using sequencing technology we have traced the genes that give mecC-MRSA its antibiotic resistance all the way back to their first appearance, and found they were around in the nineteenth century,” said Dr Ewan Harrison, a researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge and a senior author of the study. He added: “Our study suggests that it wasn’t the use of penicillin that drove the initial emergence of MRSA, it was a natural biological process. We think MRSA evolved in a battle for survival on the skin of hedgehogs, and subsequently spread to livestock and humans through direct contact.”
Antibiotic resistance in bugs causing human infections was previously thought to be a modern phenomenon, driven by the clinical use of antibiotics. Misuse of antibiotics is now accelerating the process, and antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. Since almost all the antibiotics we use today arose in nature, the researchers say it is likely that resistance to them already exists in nature too. Overuse of any antibiotic in humans or livestock will favor resistant strains of the bug, so it is only a matter of time before the antibiotic starts to lose its effectiveness. “This study is a stark warning that when we use antibiotics, we have to use them with care. There’s a very big wildlife ‘reservoir’ where antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive – and from there it’s a short step for them to be picked up by livestock, and then to infect humans,” said Professor Mark Holmes, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine and a senior author of the report.
Arizona Reports More Than 1,500 Total West Nile Virus Cases in 2021 – 1/5/2022
Since the first human West Nile virus (WNV) cases were reported in Arizona in 2003 and through 2020, the state reported a total of 1,939 cases, including a single year high of 391 in 2004. Arizona state health officials as of yesterday reported 1,567 total WNV cases (confirmed and probable) in 2021. The vast majority (85%) of the cases were reported from Maricopa County (1339), according to the most recent data. In addition, 110 deaths were reported statewide due to WNV in 2021, well more than half the total WNV deaths reported nationally. Beside Maricopa County, Pinal and Pima counties reported 120 and 94 total cases, respectively. Why the surge in 2021? One explanation is 2021 had a particularly wet summer that followed an extraordinarily dry summer in 2020. In addition, warmer-than-usual temperatures that extended through November and into early December kept the mosquito season going later than usual.
OIE Director: Avian Influenza Has Zoonotic Potential – 1/5/2022
The strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza circulating in birds in Asia and Europe is heavily mutated and has zoonotic potential, says veterinarian Monique Eloit, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health. Most countries have effective containment strategies, but "the risk is that it mutates or that it mixes with a human flu virus that can be transmitted between humans then suddenly it takes on a new dimension," Dr. Eloit said.
What do we Know About the Coronavirus 'IHU' Variant – 1/5/2022
A new coronavirus variant discovered around the same time as Omicron, has been making headlines. Researchers say it's nothing to be concerned about at the moment -- and may never be. The new variant, B.1.640.2, was discovered in a male patient at the University Hospital Institute (IHU) Mediterranee Infection in Southern France and has been dubbed the "IHU" variant. Researchers there published a report in medRxiv in late December on 12 patients confirmed to have the variant. The index case they reported, had been vaccinated and had recently returned to France from Cameroon, according to the preprint. He developed mild respiratory symptoms within 3 days of his return, according to the preprint.
The new variant had 46 mutations and 37 deletions, they found, with 14 amino acid substitutions and 12 deletions in the spike protein. The WHO classified B.1.640.2 as a "variant under monitoring" in November, after the first sequence was uploaded to the GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data) COVID database on November 4, Newsweek reported. On Tuesday, WHO COVID incident manager Abdi Mahamud confirmed that B.1.640.2 is still being monitored and does not seem to have spread much, despite the fact that it "has had a lot of chances to pick up," according to the New York Times. But experts know too little about the variant to draw any conclusions, or even make supported assumptions. "It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological, or clinical features of this IHU variant " the medRxiv authors wrote.
Omicron May be Less Severe, but not ‘Mild’ – WHO Chief – 1/6/2022
The more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorized as “mild,” the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on January 6th. Speaking at a media briefing, director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines. Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July, Tedros added. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic. Another variant – labeled as IHU and first registered in September 2021 – is among those being monitored by the WHO but is not circulating widely, said the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove. There are two other categories of greater significance the WHO uses to track variants: “variant of concern”, which includes Delta and Omicron, and “variant of interest”. Speaking at the same briefing from Geneva, WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 nations had not even reached 10 percent vaccination cover. Among severe patients worldwide, 80 percent were unvaccinated, he added.
A 79-year-old man named Alan Gosling, who kept pet ducks at his home in Devon, England, recently became the first U.K. resident to catch the H5N1 strain of bird flu, Devon Live reported. A flock of more than 100 ducks lived outside on Gosling's property in Buckfastleigh, and after feeding the animals for some time, Gosling brought 20 of the ducks into his home to keep as pets. In December 2021, a few of the ducks in the outdoor flock fell ill, Gosling noticed.
February 2020: First dog tests positive in Hong Kong. Pomeranian, 17-year-old, owner diagnosed with COVID-19, PCR positive followed by antibody positive status. Dog later died of causes likely related to age and other known health issues, NOT COVID-191.
March 2020: A 2-year-old German shepherd in Hong Kong is PCR positive after the owner was diagnosed with COVID-192.
April 2020: False PCR positive in a pug in North Carolina, antibody negative, family was COVID-19 positive3.
May 2020: An 8-year-old American bulldog from the Netherlands was antibody positive and owner had COVID-19. The dog was euthanized due to worsening breathing problems, but it is unknown if the breathing issues were caused by COVID-19 or if they were unrelated4.
June 2020: First confirmed PCR positive in the United States. The German shepherd from COVID-19 positive household had respiratory illness. The other dog in the household was antibody positive5.
October 2020: Canada reported its first case of a positive, asymptomatic dog that was identified as a part of a research study. People in the household were diagnosed with COVID-19 and likely transmitted the virus to the dog13.
Other dogs have been confirmed by the USDA to have had the infection via antibody testing as a part of targeted, active surveillance: 2 in Utah, 2 in Wisconsin, 1 in North Carolina, and 9 in Texas9.
April 2020: The United States confirmed its first two cases in pet cats in two different areas of New York state. Both cats had mild respiratory illness3.
Other cats have been confirmed by the USDA to have had the infection via PCR or antibody testing as a part of targeted, active surveillance: 4 in Utah, 2 in New York, 8 in Texas, and 1 in Louisiana12.
While there have NOT been any documented cases of naturally infected rabbits, ferrets, or hamsters, early and unpublished studies have shown that they are possibly susceptible to infection, and precautions should be considered if you are ill and have these animals in the household1–3. There is some evidence that while rabbits and ferrets can become infected, they seem to require closer contact for transmission, may be asymptomatic, and may not be able to spread it easily to others4,5.
In the United States, IDEXX, a veterinary testing service, announced that they have developed a test for COVID-19 in pets. In the process of validating this new test, thousands of samples (collected for other reasons) were tested from the U.S.; all tests for COVID-19 in those cats and dogs were negative1.
The USDA has begun tracking positive animal cases in the United States that have been confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, and are reporting them on their website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/SA_One_Health/sars-cov-2-animals-us
All information to date indicates that some animals are able to be infected by the COVID-19 virus, but it appears to be an infrequent occurrence. In Hong Kong, at least 30 dogs and 17 cats have been tested from homes with owners that were either confirmed COVID-19 cases or were close contacts to a COVID-19 patient, and only 2 dogs and 1 cat have tested positive.
Recently, there has been strong evidence of at least two humans becoming infected after exposure to infected mink at farms in the Netherlands1,2. It is suspected that a human initially infected the mink at the farm, and then the infection spread back to other humans from these infected minks. In November, Denmark reported proof of human to mink to human transmission, as well as evidence of viral mutation during this infection cycle3.
In response to this evidence, the OIE released a statement acknowledging concerns about animals becoming reservoirs for the virus, and the possibility of future spillover events from animals to humans. In light of this public health concern, the OIE recommends the following: 1) implementing national risk reduction strategies and a One Health approach to prevent the transmission of the virus between humans and susceptible animals, 2) monitor susceptible animals and humans in contact with these animals, 3) report cases to the OIE, and 4) share genetic sequences and other research findings and data4.
A study out of the University of Minnesota and University of North Carolina looked at which animals have the most similar receptors to the virus when compared to humans. These receptors are used by the virus to enter the cell and cause infection. The study observed cats, ferrets, pigs, and non-human primates have the most similar receptors to human receptors1.
A small study (not peer reviewed or published at this time, which means it has not been evaluated by other scientists for validity and suitability for publication) out of an OIE collaborating research center in China investigated the ability of ferrets, dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, and ducks to become infected with the COVID-19 virus. Both ferrets and cats were able to be infected through direct exposure (placing virus into the nose). One cat became infected through close contact alone, which suggests that cats can spread the virus through respiratory droplets to other cats. Dogs were able to become infected with direct exposure, but did not become infected through close contact, and none of the dogs had symptoms. The pigs, chickens, and ducks did not become infected2.
Another very small study (not peer reviewed or published at this time) found that cats are highly susceptible to subclinical SARS-CoV-2 infection. This means they can become infected from humans or other cats, but typically do not have clinical signs or do not appear ill. While they are infected, however, they can spread the virus to other cats. Dogs were able to become infected but did not shed virus during infection. Therefore, dogs were unable to spread the virus3. Another small study (not peer reviewed or published at this time) demonstrated similar findings with cats: infected cats in the study were asymptomatic but were able to spread the virus to other cats in just a few days4.
A study performed in Hong Kong found evidence that human to cat transmission is possible but not common, with 6 out of 50 cats in COVID-19 positive households testing positive for the virus. One of the cats that tested positive had the identical viral genome sequence, providing more evidence that the infection was almost certainly acquired by the humans in the household5.
A small study with 7 cats and 3 dogs observed that dogs can become infected and mount an immune response to SARS-CoV-2, but do not shed virus; cats are susceptible to productive SARS-CoV-2 infection but are unlikely to develop clinical disease (signs and symptoms). Cats in this study also were resistant to reinfection, meaning cats could be useful to study further for vaccine development in humans6.
Researchers at the University College London published a study7 in Scientific Reports (Nature) showing that dozens of animals have the ACE2 spike protein, which allows the virus to infect the host. The study also reported that most birds, fish, and reptiles do not appear susceptible. This study highlights the importance of surveilling and monitoring farmed and wildlife species to detect possible reservoirs and prevent future outbreaks8.
In August, the Wildlife Health Specialist Group (WHSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Animal Health Organization created guidelines centered on SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk to free-ranging wild mammals. In this document, the risk of reverse zoonosis and the possibility of the wildlife population to become a reservoir for the virus is discussed in detail. Click here for the guidelines.
A study in Germany evaluated raccoon dogs as a potential intermediate host. The study found that raccoon dogs are susceptible to infection and are able to transmit the virus to other raccoon dogs in close proximity9.
Because this virus is new and we are still learning, as a precaution you should restrict contact with your pets if you are diagnosed with COVID-19. If this is not possible, wash your hands before touching your pet, avoid snuggling and other close contact, and wear a facemask or something to cover your nose and mouth.
There are no specific recommendations or guidelines at this time. However, in general, monitor your pet for any signs of illness (coughing, sneezing, excessive sleepiness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing). Contact your veterinarian if these occur, particularly if your pet has been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
No. Currently, there are shortages of supplies such as facemasks, and medical personnel and those sick with COVID-19 should have first access to these masks. Additionally, especially in certain breeds, masks can cause breathing difficulty.
There is currently no vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The canine coronavirus vaccine is not effective for preventing COVID-19, it is only effective for preventing canine coronavirus, which is a virus that causes severe diarrhea. They are two different coronaviruses.
In September, a vaccine candidate to protect cats from the virus that causes COVID-19 began clinical trials1. If successful, it will likely not be available until 2021 at the earliest.