Susceptibility of Animals to SARS-CoV-2

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, a question which may be asked is whether the virus can infect animals? If animals can be infected, there may be the potential for the virus to spread across an animal population, to mutate and be transmitted back to humans. It is therefore crucial to understand as much as we can about which species of animals might be susceptible. For the virus to infect the host it needs to interact with surface proteins on the host’s cells. In this paper, the amino acid sequences of four proteins known to interact with SARS-CoV-2 in humans were compared across 38 vertebrate species, to determine if there was the potential to predict an animal’s susceptibility to the virus. Data gained was then compared to molecular predictions reported by others, but more importantly to real-world reports in which animals have been found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Non-human primates, such as gorillas, are predicted to be at risk and have indeed been found to be infected in captivity. Fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds are predicted to be safe, and to date, none have been reported to be infected. However, several animals groups are known to be able to be infected, including cats (both big cats and domestic) and dogs, and there seems to be no way to have predicted this from the protein analysis. Of more significance, animals in the mustelid group, e.g. mink, have been found to be very susceptible in captivity and have been found to be infected in the wild, and yet they would be predicted to be of low susceptibility. Therefore, the molecular predictions are not robust across the vertebrates. On the other hand, such predictions may highlight some animal groups for which a precautionary approach should be taken, such as non-human primates and some marine mammals. In the future, human interactions with animals, both in captivity and in the wild, needs to reflect a One Health approach, where the health and wellbeing of both animals and humans is considered in tandem, to the benefit of both. This is important not just in relation to the current Pandemic, but to the emergence of future zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Hancock, J.T., Rouse, R.C., Stone, E. and Greenhough, A., 2021. Interacting Proteins, Polymorphisms and the Susceptibility of Animals to SARS-CoV-2. Animals, 11(3), p.797.

Full article / DOI can be found here.