Scientists from the Animal Health Research Center (CReSA) of the Institute for Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA), led by Julia Vergara-Alert and Joaquim Segalés, are investigating whether the four lions at the Barcelona Zoo that were infected with covid have developed antibodies.
The IRTA, which has specialized in studying the role of felines in the epidemiology of covid-19, has been studying the domestic cats, but now they will also analyze samples from the four SARS-CoV-2 positive lions that the Barcelona Zoo documented to see if the big cats develop antibodies against the virus.
Researchers have already documented that felines, both wild and domestic, are susceptible to being infected with the virus, but there is no scientific evidence to show that they can transmit it to people, so their role in the epidemiology of the disease is irrelevant.
As explained by Vergara-Alert and Joaquim Segalés, also a professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), it is known that domestic felines such as cats can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, “but they develop effective immunity against the virus without affecting their health in a significant way”, as they verified with the case of Negrito, the first cat infected with the coronavirus in Spain.
Now, as a result of the four cases of positive lions for SARS-CoV-2 documented by the Barcelona Zoo, all with mild affectation, The researchers will also assess the virus infection dynamics in big cats.
To confirm whether the lions generated a antibody response to the virus, scientists are doing serological studies of serum samples from animals.
On the other hand, they will identify the complete sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 genome of the oropharyngeal swab samples to see if the virus has undergone any genetic changes.
For this, they will isolate the virus from the samples in cell culture in the High Biocontainment laboratory of IRTA-CReSA and sequencing It will be done in collaboration with the AIDS Research Institute (IrsiCaixa).
Until now, all over the world there is no scientific evidence to show that wild cats or big cats can transmit the virus to the people.
According to IRTA experts, “in the other cases that have been documented so far around the world of big cats that have been infected with the virus, the story has been very similar and the animals were infected through the caretaker staff, without showing symptoms or very mild symptoms. “
Regarding domestic felines, the IRTA-CReSA has been carrying out a study for six months that assesses whether the families of people infected with the virus they have passed it on to their cats.
So far, they have analyzed 70 oropharyngeal and rectal swab samples from cats and also from dogs and ferrets.
These are samples that have been received from veterinary centers throughout Catalonia, which had previously selected animals that met the requirements.
Until now, according to IRTA, all samples have been negative in the virus detection.
They also plan to carry out a study of antibody detection against the virus in these same animals.
This pet project is funded by the BBVA Foundation, in collaboration with the Council of Veterinary Colleges of Catalonia and the four official veterinary colleges, the Veterinary Pathology Diagnostic Service and the Veterinary Clinic Hospital of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.