Wednesday, February 21

Hong Kong to cull 2,000 hamsters suspected of causing COVID outbreak: what we know now about animals and coronavirus

When just a few days ago, a clerk at a pet store in Hong-Kong began to feel unwell and show the first symptoms of covid, no one imagined that she was going to become the first case of the Delta variant that the very powerful system of city ​​crawl was going to be unable to crawl. started a story that will end with the slaughter of 2,000 Dutch hamsters and the temporary suspension of imports of small animals in the former English colony.

According to the South China Morning Post, the authorities have required the pet store (which has 11 branches throughout Hong Kong) and private owners to hand over all the hamsters purchased since December 22 to be analyzed and, predictably, euthanized in the coming days. The fear that they are facing the first large-scale pet-to-human transmission is on the table, what are the implications of all this?

A new back door for SARS-CoV-2

a european virus That was what surprised the researchers the most when they sequenced the virus samples from the 23-year-old shop assistant. It was a “type of genome that circulates in Europe and Pakistan” but not in Hong Kong. How could he have slipped into the city undetected? Moreover, how was it possible that they were unable to track him? The appearance of several cases strangely related to the pet store has forced us to rethink one of the ‘mantras’ of the pandemic: that “the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low.”

From the Netherlands with… SARS-CoV-2 Above all, because when analyzing samples from the hamsters in question, they found the same genome as in the human cases. It is not the first case that something like this has happened, but it is usually considered the product of a transmission from humans to animals; the problem is that in this case said hypothesis is implausible. Hence, researchers have been forced to recognize that “there was a possibility [de que la infección entrase] through hamsters imported from the Netherlands”.

Can pets spread the virus? Unfortunately, very little is still known about how the outbreak could have occurred and the authorities hope to have a report ready as soon as possible. At the moment, health agencies such as the European and North American CDCs insist that “there is no evidence that animals play an important role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and, although it is true that “some coronaviruses that infect animals can be transmitted to people and then between people”, is something very rare.

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From the first risk analyzes of infection and subsequent infection was considered to be a low risk for cats, ferrets, and hamsters; very low for dogs; and negligible for birds and reptiles. However, all the authorities recognized that “more studies are needed to understand if and how SARS-CoV-2 could affect different animals.” In fact, ferrets and cats have been in the spotlight for a long time million minks have been slaughtered all over the world (more than 100,000 of them in Spain).

What are the implications of the Hong Kong case? For starters, in our daily life, not too many. In fact, not even Hong Kong, which is considering culling all rodents in city stores, has published more than hygiene recommendations for animals purchased before December 22. The fact that this may be the first “massive” case of infection linked to the international pet trade shows that animal-to-human transmission remains a relatively rare phenomenon. However, it is necessary to investigate it closely and the discoveries can affect health regulations and controls in the world of food imports and exports.

Image: Ricky Kharawala