Assessing Risks to Collections

Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise world-wide leading the World Health Organization to classify it a pandemic on March 11th, 2020.  While this remains a public health issue, exotic animal facilities are understandably concerned about the possible impact this emerging disease could have on collections.  The information and resources below have been compiled to address some of the most frequently asked questions.  We are actively monitoring this situation and will provide additional information as it becomes available.   
Recommended Actions:
  • Follow public health guidance to reduce disease spread including general hygiene recommendations for contact with animals
  • Review risk assessments for species in your collections and determine what changes, if any, need to be made
  • Update biosecurity protocols as necessary and determine when additional measures may be implemented
  • Consider how supply chain disruptions may impact plans and look for alternative sources of necessary supplies (including PPE, medications, feed, etc.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Are collections at risk from people who may be shedding the virus? 

You have likely heard that a dog in Hong Kong tested ‘weak positive’ for COVID-19 while in quarantine, after its owner was hospitalized for the illness.  This dog has not shown any clinical signs and the exact cause for the virus’s presence remains unknown.  Currently there is no evidence to suggest that domestic pets can contract or spread this disease, though more information is needed to understand if and how other animals may be affected.  While there have not been any reports of animals becoming sick with COVID-19 as of this writing,  it is still recommended that individuals who are sick limit contact with companion and other animals until more is known about this disease.  Individuals handling or caring for animals should implement the following basic hygiene measures:

  • Restrict contact with animals when ill
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling animals, their food, or supplies
  • Avoid close contact including kissing, licking, and sharing food.

These recommendations are not new and apply to collection animals as well as pets.  If individuals must care for animals when ill they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Is there any guidance available for Great Apes? 

If you have Great Apes in your care we recommend reviewing the Corona virus disease (COVID-19): considerations for Great Apes in human care  document which includes additional background, risk assessments, potential actions, and resources.  This document was prepared by Dr. Hayley Murphy,  Deputy Director of Zoo Atlanta and Director of the Great Ape Heart Project and reviewed by great ape veterinary advisors.

It is important to remember that there have been no studies looking at the transmission potential or pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and great apes. Despite this, it is the feeling of the great ape veterinary advisors that the emergence of this novel corona virus may pose a significant health risk to great apes in human care.

Should we stop animal encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, or other contact opportunities?

Zoos, aquariums, and other managed wildlife facilities are encouraged to review risk assessments of exotic animal programs to determine what changes, if any, should be made at this time.  In general,  your collection’s risk of disease is predicated by your day-to-day operating procedures as they relate to biosecurity and animal health.  If you are looking for a place to start, the Secure Zoo Strategy Disease Risk Worksheet can help you assess your facility’s basic protocols that affect risk of disease.   If you have already assessed risk, the Biosecurity Measures Picklist is a useful tool for determining what additional protocols to implement for increased levels of threat.

A full list of Secure Zoo Strategy resources is available here.

Where can I find more information about the potential impact on animals?

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OiE) continues to add new information to their Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) continue to update guidance on COVID-19.

This Global One Health webinar with Dr. Linda Saif discusses how coronaviruses may impact humans and animals.

Where can I report concerns about veterinary supply chain disruptions?

From the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

The AVMA is supporting the FDA’s efforts by gathering information about drug needs and related concerns from veterinarians, practices/practice groups, and veterinary distributors. Please email information about any supply chain issues of concern to [email protected] . Include detailed information about the product of concern and its manufacturer/distributor if possible. 

General Information 

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  The severity of illness in humans can vary greatly with examples including the common cold as well as more severe illnesses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (caused by SARS-CoV).   The novel (new) coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is thought to have emerged from an animal source as initial infections were linked to a live animal market, but no specific source has been confirmed.  While we are still learning about COVID-19, the current spread appears to be from person to person via close contact and respiratory droplets.  Symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

While the exact origin of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) responsible for COVID-19 remains unknown, sequencing data shows it is closely related to other coronaviruses found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (horseshoe bat) populations.  As is the case for many pathogens that are part of seasonal human respiratory complex, the scientific community does not yet know which species may become infected or amplify the virus.

This situation continues to evolve rapidly. For the most up to date and reliable information please refer to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Current situational updates can be found at the following links:

Please refer to your state or local department of public health for additional information about plans and guidance for your area.

Our last update on COVID-19 is available here