CoronaVirus News Review In Brief: Covid-19-Review: SARS-CoV-2 spillover events | Science – By Peng Zhou, Zheng-Li Shi: “Notably, there is limited evidence of animal-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 except for mink.” | Mink may be host of coronavirus’ origin: China’s ‘Bat Woman’ | Unkno
A mutated strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been found in mink farms, such as this one in Naestved, Denmark, causing a mass cull in November 2020.
PHOTO: MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/RITZAU SCANPIX/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19 all broke out in recent decades and are caused by different strains of coronavirus (CoV). These viruses are considered to originate from bats and to have been transmitted to humans through intermediate hosts. SARS-CoV was identified in palm civets in wildlife markets and MERS-CoV in dromedary camels (1), but the direct source of the COVID-19 causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, is still undetermined. On page 172 of this issue, Oude Munnink et al. (2) report an in-depth investigation of SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals and humans working or living in 16 mink farms in the Netherlands.
SARS-CoV-2 infections were detected in 66 out of 97 (68%) of the owners, workers, and their close contacts. Some people were infected with viral strains with an animal sequence signature, providing evidence of SARS-CoV-2 spillover back and forth between animals and humans within mink farms.
Besides mink, multiple species of wild or domestic animals may also carry SARS-CoV-2 or its related viruses.
Experimental infections and binding-affinity assays between the SARS-CoV-2 spike (a surface protein that mediates cell entry) and its receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2), demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 has a wide host range (3). After the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, several groups reported SARS-related CoVs in horseshoe bats in China and in pangolins smuggled from South Asian countries, but according to genome sequence comparison, none are directly the progenitor virus of SARS-CoV-2 (4).
Domestic cats and dogs, as well as tigers in zoos, have also been found to be naturally infected by SARS-CoV-2 from humans, but there is no evidence that they can infect humans, and so they are unlikely to be the source hosts of SARS-CoV-2 (4, 5).
To date, SARS-CoV-2 infections in mink farms have been reported in eight countries (the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, France, Sweden, Italy, the United States, and Greece), according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (6).
In addition to animal-to-human transmission in farms, cold food supplier chains are raising substantial concern. In various cities in China, several small-scale COVID-19 outbreaks caused by virus-contaminated uncooked seafood or pork from overseas countries have been documented.
It was found that viral genome signatures in these outbreaks were different from the viral strains present in China (7, 8). There is evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can survive up to 3 weeks in meat and on the surface of cold food packages without losing infectivity (7, 8).
Thus, meat from SARS-CoV-2–infected animals or food packaging contaminated by SARS-CoV-2 could be a source of human infection (see the figure).
This raises concerns about public health and agriculture in the prevention and control of SARS-CoV-2. Most SARS-CoV-2–infected animals do not display an obvious clinical syndrome, and infections would be unrecognized without routine diagnosis. The massive mink culling of infected farms is an efficient way to prevent further transmission of the virus. However, it cannot be applied to all domestic animals (if other species are found to be SARS-CoV-2 hosts). Thus, out of caution, extensive and strict quarantine measures should be implemented in all domestic farms with high-density animal populations.
Because the virus is able to jump between some animals (such as mink) and humans, similar strategies should be applied to people in key occupations involving animal-human interfaces, such as animal farmers, zookeepers, or people who work in slaughterhouses.
Notably, there is limited evidence of animal-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 except for mink.