New York , Apr 6 : Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the popular Bronx Zoo here has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, probably infected by an asymptomatic employee, in what is believed to be the first known case of an animal infected with COVID-19 in the US, raising new questions about human-to-animal transmission of the deadly virus.
The tigress, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions had developed a dry cough late last month with decrease in appetite, said the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo.
Nadia, along with other big cats, is thought to have been infected by the zoo keeper who has not been identified, it said in a statement on Sunday, adding that all the animals are expected to recover.
“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” the CNN quoted the zoo as saying.
The test result has stunned zoo officials.
“I couldn”t believe it,” zoo director Jim Breheny said.
The coronavirus, first detected in humans in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, is believed to have spread from animals to humans, and a handful of animals, including two dogs, have tested positive in Hong Kong.
The pandemic has been driven by human-to-human transmission, but the infection of Nadia raises new questions about human-to-animal transmission.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), no other animals at the zoo are showing symptoms.
The animals were infected by a zoo employee who was “asymptomatically infected with the virus” while caring for them, according to the zoo. The Bronx Zoo has been closed to the public since March 16.
Anyone sick with the coronavirus is being advised to minimise contact with animals, including pets, until more information is known about the virus, the USDA said.
“There is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people,” except for the initial outbreak at a food market in Wuhan, China. In addition, there is “no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats,” the CBS News quoted USDA as saying.
The USDA said “this is the first case of its kind” and “further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”
The World Organisation for Animal Health says studies are under way to understand the issue more and urges anyone who has become sick to limit contact with pets.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases across the world and 69,479 people have died so far.
Meanwhile,the central government has issued an advisory to state and union territories (UTs) regarding containing and management of the coronavirus pandemic in national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves across the country.
The move by the Environment Ministry comes after the Central Zoo Authority had issued precautionary measures to be taken by zoos across the country, in the wake of the confirmation of COVID-19 in a tiger housed in the Bronx Zoo, New York.
“In view of the spread of COVID-19 in the country and a recent news report on a tiger being infected with the COVID-19, it is felt that there are possibilities of spread of the virus amongst animals in national parks or sanctuaries or tiger reserves and also transmission of the virus from humans to animals and vice-versa,” a letter by Wildlife Division of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said.
The ministry directed the states and Union Territories (UTs) to take immediate preventive measures and reduce human-wildlife interface.
The government has also asked to impose restrictions on the movement of people to national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves.
The Environment Ministry further, directed the states and UTs to constitute a Task Force with Field Managers, Veterinary doctors, Frontline staff, to manage the situation as quickly as possible and create a ‘round the clock’ reporting mechanism with a Nodal Officer for swift management of any cases noticed.
Moreover, the states have been ordered to set up essential services for emergency treatment of animals and their safe release back to their natural habitats, as and when required and also enhance disease surveillance, mapping and monitoring system through coordinated effort amongst various Departments.
The letter also talks about maintaining all other stipulations issued by the Health Ministry in the movement of staff or tourists or villagers, etc. in and around National Parks, Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves and to report the action taken to the Ministry.
“It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries,” it said.
(With Agency inputs)