The four-year-old Malaysian tiger named Nadia – and six other tigers and lions who also fell ill – was reportedly infected by a zoo worker who was not yet showing symptoms, the zoo said. The first animal started showing symptoms on March 27, and all are doing well and are expected to recover, said the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16 amid the New York coronavirus outbreak.
The test results stunned zoo officials: “I couldn’t believe it,” said director Jim Breheny. But he hopes the discovery will help the global fight against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Any kind of knowledge we get about how it is transmitted, about how different species react, that knowledge will somehow provide a greater basic resource for people,” he said in an interview.
This discovery raises new questions about the transmission of the virus in animals. The United States Department of Agriculture, which confirmed the results of Nadia’s tests in its veterinary laboratory, said that there were no known cases of the virus in domestic animals or American livestock.
“There does not currently appear to be any evidence to suggest that animals can transmit the virus to humans or that they can be a source of infection in the United States,” said Dr. Jane. Rooney, veterinarian and a USDA official, said in an interview.
The USDA said on Sunday that it does not recommend routine testing of coronaviruses on animals, in zoos or elsewhere, or on zoo workers. However, Rooney said that a small number of animals in the United States have been tested by the USDA’s national veterinary service labs, and all of those tests came back negative except Nadia’s.
Coronavirus epidemics around the world are caused by person-to-person transmission, experts say.
There have been a handful of reports outside the United States of infected companion dogs or cats after close contact with infectious individuals, including a Hong Kong dog that tested positive for a low level of agent pathogenic in February and early March. Agricultural officials in Hong Kong have concluded that companion dogs and cats cannot transmit the virus to humans, but can be positive if exposed by their owners.
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, based in Paris, some researchers are trying to understand the sensitivity of different animal species to the virus and to determine how it spreads among animals.
This September 21, 2012, an archival photo shows an entrance to the Bronx Zoo in New York. A zoo tiger tested positive for the new coronavirus. It is believed to be the first infection in an animal in the United States and the first known in a tiger anywhere. (AP photo / Jim Fitzgerlad, file)
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that as a precaution, people with coronavirus limit contact with animals – advice that the veterinary group reiterated after learning the test result. tiger.
In general, the CDC also advises people to wash their hands after handling animals and do other things to keep pets and their homes clean.
At the Bronx Zoo, Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions developed a dry cough and some of the cats experienced wheezing and loss of appetite, said Dr. Paul Calle, chief zoo veterinarian.
Staff thought there might be a relatively routine explanation for the cats’ symptoms, but tested Nadia for the coronavirus by “due diligence and great caution,” said Breheny. Only Nadia was tested because it takes anesthesia to get a sample of a large cat, and she had already been knocked out for examination.
The seven sick cats live in two areas of the zoo and the animals have been in contact with the same worker, who is doing well, zoo officials said. They said there were no signs of illness in other large cats on the property.
Employees working with cats will now wear infection protective clothing, as primate breeders have done for years because of the animals’ closer genetic ties to humans, Breheny said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which go away within two to three weeks. For some, especially the elderly and the elderly, it can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia, and can be fatal.