Risks from animal reservoirs of SARS-CoV-2 confirmed in statement from WHO, FAO and OIE


Risks from animal reservoirs of SARS-CoV-2 confirmed in statement from WHO, FAO and OIE

14 March 2022
The joint statement, released on 7 March, by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organisation (WHO) reinforces that farmed mink have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It recommends prioritisation of monitoring SARS-CoV-2 infection in wildlife and preventing the formation of animal reservoirs.

Three years into the pandemic, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants continues as the virus evolves. 

In a new statement from the major global health bodies WHO, FAO and OIE, the risks associated with potential animal reservoirs are laid out, including the risks from both domestic and wild animal populations. The infection and spread of the virus in animal populations could lead to the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that are then passed back to humans.

In addition to domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have thus far been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.

In 2021, Eurogroup for Animals and the Fur Free Alliance released a scientific statement on public health risks associated with SARS-CoV-2 and intensive mink production, signed by numerous scientists from the fields of virology, infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, veterinary medicine and environmental health. 

Mink farms, where thousands of mink are housed together in high density, constitute high risk potential reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 as well as for associated mutations. 

FAO, OIE and WHO are calling on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and for protecting both humans and wildlife.

Although EfA welcomes the above mentioned recommendations, it has been shown that monitoring measures haven’t been enough to contain the spread of the virus in fur farms in the EU. In a  letter sent to the Commission in June 2021, EfA and FFA expressed their concern about how fur farmers have been systematically breaching the biosecurity rules recommended by the OIE4 in some Member States. After the implementation of new EU rules to ensure harmonised monitoring activities, new outbreaks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were detected in European fur farms. 

Future spillover between animals and humans can thwart the efforts to eliminate or control the disease. EU mink farms must not become a reservoir for future spillback of SARS-CoV-2 from animals to humans.

Another recent study has found SARS-CoV-2 related viruses in trade-confiscated pangolins in Vietnam. It shows just how much a reform of wildlife policy is required to control the risks of future pandemics, and how wildlife trade risks spillover from viruses that are not detected with current screening methods.