Warning against wildlife as COVID reservoirs

The Food and Agriculture Organization, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Health Organization are calling on countries to prioritize monitoring SARS-CoV-2 infection in wildlife to prevent a novel variant of the coronavirus emerging in an animal reservoir.

“The virus continues to evolve and the risk of future emergence of variants is high,” a March 7 statement from the three intergovernmental organization reads.

Herd of white-tailed deer in a field

The FAO, OIE, and WHO urged authorities to adopt relevant regulations and disseminate recommendations previously released by the three organizations to people working closely with wildlife, including hunters and butchers.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission, the SARS-CoV-2 virus does infect animal species. Wildlife appears not to play a role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.

“Our organizations emphasize the importance of monitoring mammalian wildlife populations for SARS-CoV-2 infection, reporting results to National Veterinary Services, who report these findings to the OIE, and sharing genomic sequencing data on publicly available databases,” the statement reads.

A version of this article appears in the May 2022 print issue of JAVMA.