The novel coronavirus is believed to originate in bats, according to experts, leading the authors of a recent study to look at what other members of the animal kingdom may be at risk for getting infected by SARS-CoV-2 and potentially spreading the virus.
“We identified a large number of mammals that can potentially be infected by SARS-CoV-2 via their ACE2 proteins. This can assist the identification of intermediate hosts for SARS-CoV-2 and hence reduce the opportunity for a future outbreak of COVID-19,” the researchers stated in the study.
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The report published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) said a team of researchers studied over 400 primates, looking at the ACE2 protein, which multiple studies have identified as the entry point for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter the body.
The team from the University of California, Davis analyzed and predicted the ability of the novel coronavirus to bind to the animals’ ACE2 receptors in the 410 vertebrate species including 252 mammals, 72 birds, 65 fish, four amphibians and 17 reptiles, according to the study.
“Only mammals fell into the medium to very high categories and only catarrhine primates into the very high category, suggesting that they are at high risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the study authors said in the published report. Catarrhine primates typically include orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees.
Some of the animals found to be in the high-risk group included reindeer, white-tailed deer, Pacific white dolphins, beluga whales, chimpanzees, Western lowland gorillas and Rhesus macaques.
Cats, goats, sheep and cattle, meanwhile, were found to be the medium-risk group that included 57 species, while dogs, horses and pigs were among the 40 species considered to be in the low-risk category, according to the study.
The researchers stated the novel coronavirus poses another potential threat to some already threatened populations of species.
“Among the species, we found with the highest risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection are wildlife and endangered species,” the researchers wrote.
The study authors cautioned not to over-interpret the predictions in the study given the limited data for infections in the animals studied. They did state the study provides a foundation for future research, noting their results “if confirmed by additional experimental data, may lead to the identification of intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2, guide the selection of animal models of COVID-19, and assist the conservation of animals both in native habitats and in human care.”
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cats, dogs and other animals can be infected with the novel coronavirus.
“Most of these pets became sick after contact with people with COVID-19,” the federal agency states.
Earlier on in the pandemic, several big cats at a zoo in New York tested positive for the virus, per the CDC. More recently, a mink farm was found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.