26 animals in contact with people may be susceptible to COVID-19
It has been confirmed by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that cats, dogs, and a few other types of animals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Now, a large modelling study led by UCL researchers says that numerous animals may be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, reports evidence that 26 animals regularly in contact with people may be susceptible to infection.
The researchers investigated how the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2 could interact with the ACE2 protein it attaches to when it infects people.
The focus of the investigation was whether mutations in the ACE2 protein in 215 different animals, that make it different from the human version, would reduce the stability of the binding complex between the virus protein and host protein. Binding to the protein enables the virus to gain entry into host cells; while it is possible the virus might be able to infect animals via another pathway, it is unlikely based on current evidence that the virus could infect an animal if it cannot form a stable binding complex with ACE2.
The researchers found that for some animals, such as sheep and great apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and bonobo, many of which are endangered in the wild), the proteins would be able to bind together just as strongly as they do when the virus infects people. Some of the animals, such as sheep, have not yet been studied with infection tests, so this does not confirm that the animal can indeed be infected.
Lead author Professor Christine Orengo (UCL Structural & Molecular Biology) said: “We wanted to look beyond just the animals that had been studied experimentally, to see which animals might be at risk of infection, and would warrant further investigation and possible monitoring.
“The animals we identified may be at risk of outbreaks that could threaten endangered species or harm the livelihoods of farmers. The animals might also act as reservoirs of the virus, with the potential to re-infect humans later on, as has been documented…
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