COVID-infected hamsters in pet shop trigger animal cull in Hong Kong

People in protective gear stand outside a colorful storefront.
Enlarge / Staff with Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Section inspect the Small Manager pet shop in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

Authorities in Hong Kong are organizing to cull around 2,000 little animals immediately after a pet retailer employee and a number of imported hamsters examined good for COVID-19, according to a report by the Affiliated Push.

On Monday, the pet retailer staff analyzed beneficial and was uncovered to be contaminated with the delta coronavirus variant. Several hamsters in the keep, which experienced just lately been imported from the Netherlands, had been also optimistic. The town, meanwhile, has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 instances triggered by the omicron variant.

It is unclear if the pet shop situations are linked and, if they are, if the employee was contaminated by the hamsters or vice versa. But Hong Kong authorities say they cannot exclude the possibility that the hamsters distribute the virus to the worker. As this sort of, they are not using any possibilities.

Hamster havoc

Authorities halted all gross sales of hamsters in the metropolis as effectively as the import of hamsters and other little animals, this kind of as chinchillas. All-around 2,000 modest animals already in Hong Kong will be humanely culled to avoid transmission of the pandemic virus.

In the meantime, individuals who purchased pet hamsters in the city due to the fact December 22 will have to endure screening. If their pets exam favourable, they ought to go into quarantine.

At a information conference, Hong Kong wellness official Leung Siu-fai advised: “If you own a hamster, you should maintain your hamsters at home, do not take them out. All pet entrepreneurs must notice excellent private hygiene, and following you have been in get hold of with animals and their foods, you must wash your palms.” He also encouraged entrepreneurs to “not kiss your pets.”

In a press briefing Tuesday, officers with the World Overall health Group resolved the hamster cases, stating that “the danger continues to be low” that animals are having contaminated from men and women and then transmitting the virus again to people at major prices.

“But it is some thing that we are constantly looking at,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 specialized guide, stated in the briefing. As the virus circulates, it can continue to infect folks and animals, “so this is anything we need to have much better surveillance on.”

It really is by now very clear that many animal species can turn out to be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 and possibly provide as a reservoir for variants that could threaten to leap again to people at any time. In 2020, Denmark’s federal government made the controversial selection to cull 17 million mink just after the farmed animals were observed to harbor a SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Animal reservoirs

In the US, a number of studies have documented prevalent SARS-CoV-2 transmission in wild deer populations, as perfectly as in farmed mink. Domesticated animals, these types of as canine and cats, are recognised to be at possibility of obtaining COVID-19 from their house owners. Some zoo animals are similarly at hazard.

For now, health and fitness officials are much more centered on transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amongst folks. But there is effervescent issue about animal reservoirs, particularly amid the rise of omicron. The ultratransmissible variant speedily raised concern between authorities mainly because it initially appeared with a startlingly large range of mutations—many of which had not previously been observed in variants identified to be circulating in people.

Omicron’s sudden visual appearance elevated concerns—and hypotheses—that the variant originated in an animal reservoir, precisely mice. The contemplating goes that people had unfold SARS-CoV-2 to wild mice, which then circulated the virus about a interval of time. There, the virus tailored to its new host and picked up a wide variety of novel mutations in advance of jumping again to human beings.

For now, it’s just a hypothesis—and not always the leading one. Lots of researchers say that a more probable clarification for omicron’s origin is an immunocompromised human being. In this situation, an immunocompromised man or woman may well have harbored an an infection about a lengthy interval. That gave the virus a lot of time to be uncovered to many feeble immune responses and adapt to avert them, thus evolving into a far more harmful foe to human beings total. This kind of prolonged bacterial infections in immunocompromised individuals are the foremost hypotheses for the improvement of new variants in typical.

But the latest worries around pet hamsters is very likely to retain some consideration on the opportunity danger of animal reservoirs of the pandemic virus.