Health groups press for more wildlife SARS-CoV-2 tracking

White-tailed buck with velvet on antlers
White-tailed buck with velvet on antlers

Sebastian Di Domenico / Flickr cc

In a joint statement today, three global health groups urged countries to prioritize monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife, given growing concerns that continued spread could create virus reservoirs in animals.

In other developments, the number of world COVID-19 deaths passed 6 million, and China reported a spike in local COVID-19 cases.

Steps to curb transmission

The statement on animal surveillance came from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO). They said though wildlife doesn't play a key transmission role in humans, SARS-CoV-2 spread in animal populations can affect their health and lead to the emergence of new variants.

So far, farmed mink and pet hamsters have shown the capacity to infect humans, and scientists are reviewing a possible case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human. And in the United States, large numbers of white-tail deer have been shown to carry the virus, underscoring concerns about establishment of an animal reservoir.

The groups urged countries to adopt new steps aimed at those in close contact with wildlife, especially hunters and butchers, and the public. For example, they said people working closely with wildlife should be trained on how to reduce the risk of transmission between people in animals, such as using personal protective equipment and observing good hygiene practices around animals.

Also, they recommend that hunters avoid tracking sick animals or harvesting ones that are found dead. As a basic precaution, they said the public should not approach or feed wild animals or eat animals that are found orphaned, sick, or dead. People should also safely dispose of uneaten food, masks, tissues, and other waste to avoid passing the virus to animals.

Global cases top 6 million

Over the weekend, the global COVID-19 total passed 6 million cases, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. The five countries with the highest fatality counts include the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, and Mexico.

China, one of the few countries with a "zero COVID" policy today reported its highest daily total in about 2 years, with 214 local cases, in addition to 312 asymptomatic local cases, according to the country's National Health Commission. The provinces with the most cases are Guangdong, Jilin, and Shandong. The port city Qingdao is experiencing an Omicron spike centered in middle school students in Laixi county, where a second wave of mass testing is planned, according to Reuters.

In vaccine developments, Moderna has signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya's government to establish the first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa, the health ministry said in a statement. The goal is to produce 500 million vaccine doses a year.

In a separate development, global health groups and vaccine manufacturers who met on Mar 1 to discuss the current COVID-19 vaccine situation released a joint statement, which said vaccine supply problems have eased, but low-income countries are facing challenges delivering them, such as weak healthcare infrastructure and lack of trained vaccinators.

They said each country faces unique challenges, and more efforts are needed to align supply with demand in ways that overcome each nation's obstacles.

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