Spread of SARS-CoV-2 among animals an alarming sign: scientists
Published: Nov 18, 2021 08:29 PM
White-tailed deer Photo: VCG

White-tailed deer Photo: VCG

US media reports of SARS-CoV-2 spreading among animals are an alarming sign of the propagation of the COVID-19 pandemic, virologists warned, urging scientists to race against time to find the origins of the virus, and warning certain countries to stop politicizing the virus origins hunt, which hobbles such efforts. 

Scientists have found SARS-CoV-2 spreading among white-tailed deer and other wild animals in the US, CNN reported on Wednesday. It quoted an expert as saying that animals are likely to catch the virus "if somebody might bite an apple and throw it or even if I sneeze in a tissue and drop it."

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times that more evidence is needed to illustrate the transmission chain of coronavirus among animals, and what specific species are likely to be infected.

"The possibility of the virus spreading among animals so easily is alarming," said Yang.

Several countries have reported animals that contracted the coronavirus. At the end of last year, six countries including Denmark, the US and Italy reported mink on farms had contracted the virus. The WHO said at that time that the virus was mainly passed to those animals by human beings. 

Wang Linfa, a virologist at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said in a video conference last month that the next pandemic may occur when a virus mutates after being passed to animals by human beings, and then back to humans themselves. 

Wang said that it will be easier to handle if transmission is limited among livestock species. It will be more concerning if the virus begins to travel in the wildlife population. Take bats, for example. They have a unique immune system that supports virus mutation. 

Virologists pointed out that a most urgent task we are facing now is to find the source of SARS-CoV-2. "Unfortunately, the US politicization of the virus origins hunt has bogged down this process," said Yang.

Scientists now are very cautious about publishing their work on the coronavirus' origins, said Yang, citing US pressure. 

US President Joe Biden in May ordered US intelligence officers to look into the origins of the coronavirus within 90 days, with an intention to smear China with a lab leak theory. After the time had passed, the officers announced that they believed the virus that causes COVID-19 was most likely created by "natural exposure to an animal infected with it, or a close progenitor virus."

Now the coronavirus is still ravaging the world, with possibility of more mutations emerging, so the fastest solution to halt transmission is to find the virus, said Yang, warning the US to cooperate with international scientists and stop throwing barriers into the international search.