LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - When it comes to COVID-19, information is limited and ever changing.
COVID-19 is a “novel” coronavirus, meaning a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Scientists are studying how it found its way into the population while also learning how to fight it.
As concern grows over new COVID-19 variants emerging around the world, it’s more vital than ever to understand how to prevent future strains from spreading.
One university is now shifting their focus toward identifying future pandemic threats. Researchers at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine believe the animals and the environment around us could hold those clues.
“We know that this virus originated probably in an animal,” proclaimed Dr. Vanessa Hale, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “What we saw after that was just rapid, dramatic and devastating spread through the human population.”
Veterinarians, microbiologists and epidemiologists at the University are testing pets, farm animals or wildlife looking to see if the virus exist in these populations and studying the likelihood that those animals could harbor mutations or even potentially pass COVID-19 back to humans in a new form.
“This is the first time that a team like this has come together sampling both storm and wastewater and domestic animals, pets and wildlife,” she explained.
The team believes it is not just good enough to respond to a pandemic. The goal now must be to prevent future pandemics and greater loss.
“You’ll never hear about the pandemic that never happened but that’s what we work toward every day,” Hale said. “To ensure we’re looking at all the places were these things might be at risk.”
A small number of animals who were in contact with COVID-19 infected people have been reported to have been infected with the virus themselves. Like the Louisville Zoo’s snow leopards and the tiger’s this week at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana. Dr. Hall and the CDC suggest you treat pets and any animals around you like you would human family members if you have the virus.
“Isolate away from your pets,” Hale stressed. “Make sure you’re using good hand hygiene when preparing their food. Don’t let them lick your face or kiss your face if you are sick with COVID.”
Six countries - Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the United States - have reported cases to the World Health Organization of farmed mink infected with the coronavirus.
“These mink will develop respiratory disease, gastro intestinal disease and can die of COVID,” Hale explained. “In these cases, we have also seen they can transmit that virus back to humans.”
At this time, there is no evidence that pets, including cats and dogs, play a role in spreading COVID-19 to people but there is a small chance that if you have coronavirus, you could spread it to them. People with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife.