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Adetunji: Government should work with vets to educate public on animal’s role in spread of COVID-19

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Since the global outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the focus has solely been on curbing the spread of the disease among humans and finding a cure for it. But with cases of COVID-19 infection discovered among animals in some countries, it has become imperative that governments and people turn attention in this direction so that efforts at battling the pandemic are not undermined.

So, rather than focus completely and exclusively on fighting the virus among humans, the possibility of mutual transmission between man and animal should also be taken into consideration, to ensure total victory over the disease. This is especially expedient with regard to pets and economic animals, such as cow, goat and ram, among others.

How do government and relevant authorities go about achieving tangible results in this area? Is the possibility of mutual transmission of COVID-19 between man and animal very high?

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Victoria Olusola Adetunji, Professor of Veterinary Public Health, University of Ibadan, explained that though SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) is thought to have originated in bats, the intermediate animal sources of the virus are completely unknown.

She said: “By the end of February 2020, there was evidence that animals were being infected with SARS-CoV-2. While two dogs (Hong Kong), four cats (Belgium, Hong Kong, New York), five tigers (New York City), and three lions (New York City) have been infected, as of April 22 with SARS-CoV-2, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organisations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people (UC DAVIS, School of Veterinary Medicine; Corona information).”

This notwithstanding, Adetunji, who is also the Coordinator, University of Ibadan, COVID-19 Emergency Response and Research Committee (CERRC) and a member of the Oyo State COVID-19 Decontamination and Containment Team, disclosed that COVID-19 cases have been reported in pet and zoo animals, including dogs, cats, tigers and lions, although there is no known report in livestock till now.

On whether the government is doing anything to address this possibility since the concentration has been mainly on curbing the spread among the people, she said though there is no report of infection among livestock animals currently, the Veterinary Council of Nigeria is currently carrying out nationwide decontamination of livestock/live birds markets, abattoirs and other vulnerable veterinary outfits across the nation. “This is to augment government’s effort in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

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But to effectively handle this aspect of the infection, so that it doesn’t undermine efforts at tackling the pandemic, she was of the view that government should work with Veterinarians in educating the public on the role of the animal in the spread of Covid-19, and the necessary preventive measures required.

“According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), until more is known about this virus, people with COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets and other animals. Pet and livestock owners should stay healthy and follow all Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines around their animals,” she said.

People dealing with pets and other animals can also monitor the health of these creatures to see whether or not they have COVID-19, by watching out for the same symptoms as in humans.

“Animals are likely to present similar symptoms as in humans,” Adetunji explained. “The two dogs’ cases were asymptomatic. However, the first cat case from Belgium showed clinical signs suggestive of COVID-19 (vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory distress) one week after the owner tested positive for the virus. The first tiger case also developed dry cough and inappetence before testing positive for the virus (UC DAVIS, School of Veterinary Medicine; Corona information).”

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In light of this, it has become necessary that people handling animals, such as cattle rearers, killers and butchers, among others, should go the extra mile in taking precautionary measures so that they don’t get infected and spread the virus to consumers and their environment.

She said: “Animal handlers and owners should ensure adequate personal and environmental hygiene, as advised by NCDC, in addition to maintenance of hygienic environment for their animals. Sick persons should distance themselves from their animals to prevent spread to animals, as possible infection in these animals has been established.

“In the case, some animals are found to be infected, necessary measures should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus in the community. Any animal suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or showing similar signs after possible contact with a confirmed human case should be isolated immediately and reported to the NCDC for further actions.

“The best way to handle domestic animals in this period of COVID-19 pandemic is to follow all NCDC preventive measures for ourselves and pets. Do not allow your animals to relate or mix with other animals. Ensure six feet distance with people and other animals, while walking your dog/pet. Also, wash your hands before and after touching your animals.”

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