SARS-CoV-2, virus that causes COVID-19 disease, is not attacking just people, even if we are its favorite host. Thing is that we got our share of coronaviruses from somewhere – maybe from bats. But does that mean that other animals can get infected too? Scientists at UCL have reasons to believe that yes.
Humans are not that unique. Yes, we do have some diseases that are specific to us, but not that many, actually. And viruses don’t discriminate – whenever they have an opportunity to attack, they do. The door to our organisms for SARS-CoV-2 could be some specific protein. Scientists now decided to investigate whether mutations in the ACE2 protein in 215 different animals allows more animals to get infected.
It is very important to see whether animals can get infected with our pandemic diseases. Thing is, they could be participating in spreading those viruses, which would make them proliferate even faster. And these diseases could also be threatening endangered species. That is why scientists now performed more detailed structural analyses for certain animals, focusing on those that are at most risk due to close interactions with humans.
Scientists found that for some animals the ACE2 protein could bind as strongly as it does when SARS-CoV-2 is infecting people. In this study sheep and great apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and bonobo, many of which are endangered in the wild) were identified as such animals at risk. In fact, the majority of the mammals they reviewed could potentially be infected. Meanwhile most birds, fish, and reptiles do not appear to be at risk of infection.
Su Datt Lam, first author of the study, said: “Unlike laboratory-based experiments, the computational analyses we devised can be run automatically and rapidly. Therefore, these methods could be applied easily to future virus outbreaks that, unfortunately, are becoming more common due to human encroachment into natural habitats.”
Scientists say that this means that proper hygiene measures need to be taken even when dealing with animals that do not appear to be carrying COVID-19. Essentially, people should wash their hands more and pay more attention to who their animals are interacting with. Maybe it’s a good idea to not allow a stranger pet your dog this time. But, more than anything, this study shows that more research is urgently needed.
Scientists identified 26 animals, which regularly are in contact with people, that could be susceptible to infection. But there are still many unknowns, because actual fact infection has not been confirmed in these cases. Hopefully, a further analysis will show that the situation is not that bad, but you should still be very cautious.