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Issue paper

Recommendations for the epidemiological investigation of SARS-CoV-2 in exposed animals

Acknowledging the zoonotic nature of SARS-CoV-2, investigations about potential animal hosts are of great importance to improve understanding of COVID-19 epidemiology and identify susceptible animal species as well as possible transmission between humans and animals. Positive findings by a polymerase chain reaction in dogs, cats, farmed mink, and wild feline in zoos have raised concerns about the possible role livestock and companion animals could play in the amplification and spread of the virus. Several studies looking at the binding affinity of SARS-CoV-2 receptor in different animal species hypothesized a probable wide range of animal hosts especially mammals.

Field studies need to be undertaken now, in the short term, while virus circulation in humans is ongoing in different parts of the world. A thorough One Health investigation is recommended by FAO for events where livestock and companion animals are in close contact to confirmed human COVID-19 cases, or in situations where animals tested SARS-CoV-2 positive in absence of information on the infection status of in-contact humans. By jointly analyzing laboratory and epidemiological information on human and animal cases collected by public health and veterinary services, so-called 4-way linking, our understanding of the epidemiology of COVID-19 and potential transmission between humans and animals will be greatly enhanced.