Scientists studying possible transmission of COVID-19 from animals to humans

Scientists are trying to learn more about the origin of the coronavirus, which some believe was a bat or possibly the strange-looking pangolin.

Researchers are also studying COVID-19 in other animals and the environment to identify the potential source of future pandemic threats.

Here in the United States, a tiger at a New York Zoo, gorillas in San Diego and a handful of companion pets like cats and dogs, have all tested positive for COVID.

"We know that this virus can jump species and what we want to know next, or be able to tell as early as possible, is what other species can it be in?" said Professor Vanessa Hale with The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hale and a team of microbiologists and other scientists are part of a program called eScout. The goal is to identify the virus in different animals and determine if those animals are harboring mutations that could spread COVID back to humans.

"We're testing deer squirrels, mink, rabbits and working closely with a lot of different community members, including other veterinarians and veterinary clinics to test things like ferrets as well. We're also testing pigs at agricultural fairs. So, state and county fairs where pigs may be coming together for shows," Hale said.

The scientists are also monitoring wastewater and urban runoff for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine what strain of the virus is circulating. Researchers say environmental surveillance will be important in long-term COVID prevention measures.

Professor Hale says scientists have found that the rates of animal transmission are very low, with the exception of minks - which are in the same family as otters and weasels. Hale says COVID seems to transmit more easily from minks to people, and from people back to minks.

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