COVID-infected hamsters in pet store set off animal cull in Hong Kong

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People in protective gear stand outside a colorful storefront.
Enlarge / Employees with Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Division examine the Little Boss pet retailer in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

Authorities in Hong Kong are planning to cull round 2,000 small animals after a pet retailer worker and several other imported hamsters examined optimistic for COVID-19, in line with a report by the Related Press.

On Monday, the pet retailer worker examined optimistic and was discovered to be contaminated with the delta coronavirus variant. A number of hamsters within the retailer, which had just lately been imported from the Netherlands, had been additionally optimistic. The town, in the meantime, has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 circumstances brought on by the omicron variant.

It is unclear if the pet retailer circumstances are linked and, if they’re, if the worker was contaminated by the hamsters or vice versa. However Hong Kong authorities say they can not exclude the chance that the hamsters unfold the virus to the worker. As such, they are not taking any probabilities.

Hamster havoc

Authorities halted all gross sales of hamsters within the metropolis in addition to the import of hamsters and different small animals, corresponding to chinchillas. Round 2,000 small animals already in Hong Kong will probably be humanely culled to stop transmission of the pandemic virus.

In the meantime, individuals who purchased pet hamsters within the metropolis since December 22 should bear testing. If their pets check optimistic, they have to go into quarantine.

At a information convention, Hong Kong well being official Leung Siu-fai suggested: “Should you personal a hamster, it is best to maintain your hamsters at dwelling, don’t take them out. All pet homeowners ought to observe good private hygiene, and after you’ve been involved with animals and their meals, it is best to wash your palms.” He additionally suggested homeowners to “not kiss your pets.”

In a press briefing Tuesday, officers with the World Well being Group addressed the hamster circumstances, saying that “the danger stays low” that animals are getting contaminated from folks after which transmitting the virus again to folks at vital charges.

“However it’s one thing that we’re continually taking a look at,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, stated within the briefing. Because the virus circulates, it could proceed to contaminate folks and animals, “so that is one thing we’d like higher surveillance on.”

It is already clear that many animal species can change into contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 and doubtlessly function a reservoir for variants that would threaten to leap again to people at any time. In 2020, Denmark’s authorities made the controversial resolution to cull 17 million mink after the farmed animals had been discovered to harbor a SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Animal reservoirs

Within the US, a number of research have documented widespread SARS-CoV-2 transmission in wild deer populations, in addition to in farmed mink. Domesticated pets, corresponding to canine and cats, are identified to be susceptible to getting COVID-19 from their homeowners. Some zoo animals are equally in danger.

For now, well being officers are extra centered on transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amongst folks. However there’s effervescent concern about animal reservoirs, significantly amid the rise of omicron. The ultratransmissible variant shortly raised concern amongst consultants as a result of it first appeared with a startlingly giant variety of mutations—lots of which had not beforehand been seen in variants identified to be circulating in people.

Omicron’s sudden look raised considerations—and hypotheses—that the variant originated in an animal reservoir, particularly mice. The pondering goes that people had unfold SARS-CoV-2 to wild mice, which then circulated the virus over a time period. There, the virus tailored to its new host and picked up quite a lot of novel mutations earlier than leaping again to people.

For now, it is only a speculation—and never essentially the main one. Many researchers say that a extra seemingly clarification for omicron’s origin is an immunocompromised particular person. On this situation, an immunocompromised particular person might have harbored an an infection over a protracted interval. That gave the virus loads of time to be uncovered to numerous feeble immune responses and adapt to avert them, thereby evolving right into a extra harmful foe to people general. Such extended infections in immunocompromised persons are the main hypotheses for the event of recent variants usually.

However the newest considerations over pet hamsters is prone to maintain some consideration on the potential risk of animal reservoirs of the pandemic virus.



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