ew York city has borne witness to a fresh threat from SARS-CoV2. A four-year-old Malayan tigress at the Bronx Zoo, named Nadia, has tested positive for COVID-19. According to the zoo authorities, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa confirmed the case. It is believed to be the first known case of an animal being infected by the virus in the US. The case has rung alarm bells around the world, quite understandably. What makes the case even more worrisome is that a zookeeper who did not show any symptom of the disease may have infected Nadia and six other big cats.
Although the zoo authorities have expressed hope that Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions at the zoo that have been infected are likely to make full recovery, the big question is what the new case indicates in terms of human to animal transmission and vice-versa.
If SARS-CoV2 is able to transmit from animal to human and in reverse easily, it means greater danger to humanity in the future. It may also indicate the virus may not have any expiry date or a simple shelf life.
The silver lining in this case is the fact that besides a slight decrease in appetite, the big cats have not shown other physical discomfort. They remain bright, alert and interactive with keepers, according to the zoo authorities. It remains to be seen how the virus develops in the big cats, as species can react differently to different infections. There were less than a handful of isolated reports of companion animals or pets testing positive for novel coronavirus, including two dogs in Hong Kong. Till date there have been no reports of rapid transmission of the disease from humans to animals or the other way round. However; it is undoubtedly better to err on the side of caution, given that the origin of the outbreak has been traced to wet markets in Wuhan. Reports suggested that the virus may have spread from pangolin meat or from bats as some others suggested.
One of the biggest issues that persist in the fight against the novel coronavirus is the lack of information about how China was able to handle the pandemic. Going by the accounts emerging from that country, it appears that the measures China adopted were successful in bringing COVID-19 under control. But China’s success story is still not entirely out in the open for researchers to understand the virus or the condition better. It has emerged in recent days that COVID-19 has become asymptomatic. The new lots of patients emerging are showing no symptom of the disease. It makes containment even more difficult, particularly if countries lack the wherewithal to diagnose the disease quickly. China, it may be suspected, never believed in anything close to containment that implied medical care. Most likely, it ‘terminated’ the patients.
The situation puts a strain on the resources of countries, as such kits will have to be mass produced in quick-time and also made available throughout the supply chain at an equally high pace. The kind of logistics and expenses such measures demand are humongous. Countries around the world will not be able to fight the pandemic if the costs escalate immeasurably. The situation calls for better and faster sharing of information as it would help us quickly find a cure for the threat. China Obviously will not be willing to share any internal situation reports with the rest of the world.