Photo of a tiger at the Bronx Zoo (not necessarily the infected one) by Chris Costello.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for Covid-19, raising new concerns about whether animals can indeed get the disease. Lions at the zoo also showed signs of respiratory illnesses afterwards, though they weren’t tested. The USDA explained how they think the animal got infected:
Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27. All of these large cats are expected to recover. There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms.
Some animals have been diagnosed with the virus in other countries, but this appears to be the first one diagnosed in the U.S. There’s been some conflicting information on animals getting and giving Covid-19, and here’s what the USDA said after the positive test.
Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.
Questions and Answers:
Can people give this virus to animals and, if so, what animals are at risk?
This is the first case of its kind. We are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it spreads. This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted.
If multiple animals were showing symptoms, why was only one tested?
Only one tiger was tested as the collection of diagnostic samples in big cats requires general anesthesia. Since all tigers and lions were exhibiting similar respiratory symptoms, the attending veterinarian felt it was in the best interest of the animals to limit the potential risks of general anesthesia to one tiger for diagnostics.
If animals can catch the virus, can they give it back to people?
At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.
Will this finding prompt additional testing of animals?
No. This is an evolving situation, however, routine testing of zoo or personal animals is not recommended at this time. Public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs of illness and that are known to have been exposed to the virus. More information about how those decisions will be made is available here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf
Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested?
USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.
Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)?
You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets. More information is available on how to keep people and animals safe at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.
What should I do if I think my animal has the virus?
Call your veterinary clinic with any questions about your animal’s health. In order to ensure the veterinary clinic is prepared for the household animal, the owner should call ahead and arrange the hospital or clinic visit. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed a person sick with COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of illness. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested.
Could this affect tigers or other animals at other zoos across the United States?
There is no evidence of this virus affecting animals at any other facilities in the United States. However, anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.