As if it wasn’t bad enough that the deadly coronavirus can transmit from one human being to another. Today, a zoo in the United States, New York City’s Brox zoo, confirmed the first-ever case of human-to-animal transmission of the virus after a tiger tested positive.
Nadia, the four-year-old Malaysian tiger, is believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn’t yet showing symptoms, the zoo said in a statement. Six other tigers and lions at the zoo are also ill and showing symptoms of the virus. Nadia started showing signs around March 27, but all animals are doing well and are expected to recover soon, according to the zoo.
Fortunately, the zoo has been closed to the public since March 16, owing to the rising number of coronavirus cases in New York City. Prior to this case, there was no evidence to believe that the virus could be transmitted from human beings to animals.
Unsurprisingly, the zoo officials were shocked when they heard the news. “I couldn’t believe it,” director Jim Breheny said. But he hopes the finding can contribute to the global fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. “Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it’s transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater resource base for people,” he said in an interview.
There have also been some previous reports of pets testing positive for the virus, including a Hong Kong dog that tested positive for a low level of the pathogen in February and early March. So what exactly does this mean? Can infected animals pass the virus back to human beings? Hong Kong agriculture authorities concluded that pet dogs and cats couldn’t pass the virus to human beings but could test positive if exposed by their owners.
As of now, the US’ Center For Disease Control has advised that people tested positive with the coronavirus should limit contact with animals, wash their hands before handling animals and follow other hygienic practices to keep pets and their homes clean.
Meanwhile in India, all zoos in India have been asked to remain on high alert and monitor animals for any abnormal behaviour after the news of Nadia the tiger testing positive broke. Zoos have also been asked to send samples of suspect animals to animal health institutes to initiate COVID-19 testing. The Central Zoo Authority of India (CZAI), the apex body for all zoos in India, issued an advisory in this regard on Monday.
There are around 160 recognised zoos in India with more than 56,800 captive animals. Fortunately, all zoos in India have remained shut owing to the 21-day lockdown that started on March 25. “Zoos in the country, are therefore, advised to remain on highest alertness, watch animals on 24×7 basis, using CCTV for any abnormal behaviour and symptoms,” the advisory issued by CZAI said.
The advisory also asked zookeepers and handlers not to go close to the animals without safety gear, preferably PPE (personal protective equipment), and have the least contact while feeding them. Zoo officials have also been directed to isolate and quarantine sick animals.
So that brings us to the million-dollar question that’s running through everyone’s mind. Are my pets safe? Well, if you or your family members are healthy, your pets should be too. However, if anyone in your house shows signs of the virus, it is recommended that the person isolate themselves from not just the humans but also the animals in your household.
After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
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