The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Humans With COVID-19 Could Put Other Animal Species at Risk

DEAR READERS: Analysis of 410 species of birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found that about 40% of those that are thought to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 are considered threatened or endangered. These include the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan and Northern white-cheeked gibbon, which are predicted to be at very high risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2. Gray whales, bottlenose dolphins, white-tailed deer and Chinese hamsters are at high risk; cats, cows and sheep are at medium risk; and dogs, pigs and horses are at low risk.

This valuable contribution to our understanding of the potential threat of this virus to other species calls for One Health (onehealthinitiative.com) precautionary measures to minimize -- and ideally prevent -- infected humans from infecting other animals. Those animals, if infected, could then serve as reservoirs to reinfect people -- or, if endangered, they could become extinct.

Immediate steps must be taken by zoos, circuses (those with performances by wild animals, outlawed in many places), wildlife parks, marine aquariums and conservation areas to limit human-animal proximity and routinely test all staff, wildlife officers and anti-poaching forces. In addition, all visitors should be screened.

Precautions are called for with workers around cattle and sheep, which are considered at medium risk of coronavirus infection. Even though pigs are at low risk, workers also need to be screened, especially considering that hog confinement units generally have poor air quality and can be sources of influenza and other zoonotic infections.

White-tailed deer, currently overpopulating and spreading chronic wasting disease across North America, may be at higher risk, especially on farms where employees infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus could spread it to the deer. Such human-to-animal infection has happened in Utah, as well as in Denmark and the Netherlands, where infected workers on fur ranches infected mink.

Hamsters are very popular cage pets, and special precautions are called for in households that include a hamster and one or more infected humans. During an infection, physical contact with the hamster should be avoided. The hamster(s) should be kept in a separate room with only one healthy adult tending them, being sure to wash hands before and after cleaning, feeding and watering. Ferrets are also susceptible, and similar precautions are called for.

High vigilance is called for with all highly and moderately susceptible species since, as the Dutch government has shown, mink infected with SARS-CoV-2 contracted from workers subsequently passed the infection on to other workers.

It would be highly advisable for all pet stores to stop selling these and other animals, limit public contact and, if they must, sell only aquarium fish.

Cats must be kept indoors. Otherwise, infective pools of cats carrying the coronavirus could become established, with infected humans acting as constant sources of infection and reinfection into the surrounding cat communities. Some cats could bring the coronavirus into their homes since cat-to-cat transfer has been documented, although as yet, no case of cat-to-human transfer has been reported. Infected cats could put other wildlife at risk, especially indigenous predators like the foxes, weasels and mink in Minnesota’s forests and elsewhere.

Especially in light of trans-species passage, the development of a safe, effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will be a challenge. Similar difficulties with constantly evolving strains of the influenza virus -- with its avian, porcine and human variant recombinants -- mean some vaccines, developed in anticipation of the next pandemic, do not give effective protection from an unexpected new variant strain.

Surely the thing for any sane and civil society to do is to practice effective preventive medicine from a One Health perspective, which first calls for a total revision of our relationships with animals.

TURMERIC COMPOUND MIGHT HELP DOGS WITH EYE PAIN

Turmeric may be useful in treating canine uveitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the eye that can occur after cataract surgery or secondary to some cancers and infectious or autoimmune diseases, says veterinary ophthalmologist Erin Scott. She and her colleagues have discovered that a nanoparticle formulation of curcumin, found in turmeric, is easily absorbed and effective for managing uveitis with no apparent side effects. Scott hopes to begin clinical trials of the compound soon. (Full story: release from Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, 8/27)

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)