A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, has become the first known animal in America (and first tiger anywhere in the world) to test positive for coronavirus, according to federal officials.
It is believed that six other tigers and lions have also fallen ill after developing a dry cough, since the first infected animal, Nadia - a four year old female Malayan tiger - began showing the same symptoms at the end of last month (27 Mar).
Nadia's test results were confirmed by The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) at its National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
How did the big cats get infected?
While the Bronx Zoo has been closed to the public since 16 March amid the surging coronavirus outbreak in New York, the zoo believes the animals were infected by an employee, who may have had an undetected case of the virus.
Speaking about the findings, the zoo's chief veterinarian, Dr Paul Calle, said, "We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus.”
According to the zoo, all of the animals are coping well with the infection and are expected to recover.
Can pets and livestock become infected?
There are no known cases of the virus in US pets or livestock, according to Dr Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and USDA official.
A small sample of animals in the United States have been tested at the USDA’s veterinary laboratories, and all tests came back with negative results, except Nadia's.
However, there have been a small number of reports from outside of the US claiming that some pets have become infected after close contact with people carrying the pathogen.
Such cases include a dog from Hong Kong, which, in February and early March this year, tested positive for a low level of the virus.
According to the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health, researchers are currently working to understand how Covid-19 spreads among animal species, as well as the susceptibility of various species to the virus.
Are infected animals contagious to humans?
So far experts are concluding that coronavirus outbreaks are only driven by human transmission.
Commenting on whether infected animals can spread the virus back to humans, Dr Rooney said, "There doesn't appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States.”
Similarly, Hong Kong agriculture authorities have also confirmed that pet cats and dogs were not able to pass the virus to human beings, despite testing positive if they are overly exposed to the virus by their owners
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