Coronavirus as Zoonosis

Transferring from wild animals to humans


An outbreak of a new coronavirus, also known as SARS severe acute respiratory syndrome -CoV coronavirus -2, started in December 2019 in the Wuhan region of China. The virus can cause the disease COVID-19.

In the case of SARS and this coronavirus outbreak, bats were most probably the original hosts. They then infected other animals via their poop or saliva, and the unwitting intermediaries transmitted the virus to humans.

“Poorly regulated live-animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spill over from wildlife hosts into the human population,” the Wildlife Conservation Society

A new coronavirus that originated (as of December 2019) in Wuhan, China, is currently spreading around the world at breakneck speed. Obviously, attention is now focused on mitigating risks to people, with the result that travel is limited to at least delay further spread.

But there is a link between the sudden onset of this virus and wildlife. Very soon after the virus was discovered, Chinese scientists tried to trace the origin of the virus.

January 30, 2020, so already after two months after discovering the virus, they published the results of their research in the journal The Lancet

It is also important for veterinarians to take note of this article, as well as of the studies published later. Attempts will be made to regularly update this page with new information that is relevant to veterinarians.

Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding, Roujian Lu * et al, Lancet 2020; 395: 565–74, Published Online January 29, 2020


In late December, 2019, patients presenting with viral pneumonia due to an unidentified microbial agent were reported in Wuhan, China. A novel coronavirus was subsequently identified as the causative pathogen, provisionally named 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Phylogenetic analysis of 2019-nCoV, sequenced from nine patients' samples, showed that the virus belongs to the subgenus Sarbecovirus. 2019-nCoV was more similar to two bat-derived coronavirus strains, bat-SL-CoVZC45 and bat-SL-CoVZXC21, than to known human-infecting coronaviruses, including the virus that caused the SARS outbreak of 2003.

This finding suggests either possible droplet transmission or that the patient was infected by a currently unknown source.

To find out the source, research was conducted into similarities between the first infected people and the locations visited. It showed that several patients with viral pneumonia were found to be epidemiologically associated with the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, where a number of non-aquatic animals such as birds and rabbits were also on sale before the outbreak. Eight of the patients had visited the Huanan seafood market before the onset of illness, and one patient (WH04) did not visit the market but stayed in a hotel near the market.

Phylogenetic analysis showed that bat-derived coronaviruses fell within all five subgenera of the genus Betacoronavirus. Moreover, bat-derived coronaviruses fell in basal positions in the subgenus Sarbecovirus, with 2019-nCoV most closely related to bat-SL-CoVZC45 and bat-SL-CoVZXC21, which were also sampled from bats. These data are consistent with a bat reservoir for coronaviruses in general and for 2019-nCoV in particular.

However, despite the importance of bats, several facts suggest that another animal is acting as an intermediate host between bats and humans.

  1. the outbreak was first reported in late December, 2019, when most bat species in Wuhan are hibernating.
  2. no bats were sold or found at the Huanan seafood market, whereas various non-aquatic animals (including mammals) were available for purchase.
  3. the sequence identity between 2019-nCoV and its close relatives bat-SL-CoVZC45 and bat-SL-CoVZXC21 was less than 90%, which is reflected in the relatively long branch between them. Hence, bat-SL-CoVZC45 and bat-SL-CoVZXC21 are not direct ancestors of 2019-nCoV.
  4. in both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, bats acted as the natural reservoir, with another animal (masked palm civet for SARS-CoV and dromedary camels for MERS-CoV) acting as an intermediate host, with humans as terminal hosts.


on article The Lancet january 29, 2020

No hard evidence has been found in this study that the virus indeed originates from bats. Only the relationship between the examined patients and their visit to a Sea-food market suggests that the virus has spread to humans via this market.

On the basis of current data, it seems likely that the 2019-nCoV causing the Wuhan outbreak might also be initially hosted by bats, and might have been transmitted to humans via currently unknown wild animal (s) sold at the Huanan seafood market.

Since it could be ruled out that there was a direct jump from bats to humans (at that time the bats were also in hybernation in China), it must be assumed that the virus had established itself in an intermediate host. It follows from other studies that this may most likely have been a mammal also traded on the said market.

More generally, the disease outbreak linked to 2019-nCoV again highlights the hidden virus reservoir in wild animals and their potential to occasionally spill over into human populations.


A study of cultured bat cells shows that their strong immune responses, constantly primed to respond to viruses, can drive viruses to greater virulence. Modeling bat immune systems on a computer, the researchers showed that when bat cells quickly release interferon upon infection, other cells quickly wall themselves off. This drives viruses to faster reproduction. The increased virulence and infectivity wreak havoc when these viruses infect animals with tamer immune systems, like humans.


Bats have a strong developing immune system. This is probably connected to their highly active metabolism.

It is almost impossible that the viruses that bats carry, are directly transferred to humans. It follows from the various studies that it was almost always possible to demonstrate that an intermediate jump was required via a different animal species.

Destroying bats for fear of viruses is questionable. It is better to limit the possible jump between the virus in animals toward humans by ending uncontrolled and illegal trade and markets where live wild animals are sold.

Which animal is the most likely intermediate: There is no conclusive study which proves that one kind of animal could have been the stepping stone in transferring the virus from bats to humans. Depending on studies and kind of similar virusses there are different suspects, such as camels, civet, but also an unexpected suspect the Pangolin. Not only local species (if available), but also probably the poached species of African Pangolin. However, can there be any proof that this animal (either live of dead) coult be the intermediate-species in Wuhan China?

What about the Pangolin


26 FEBRUARY 2020

Mystery deepens over animal source of coronavirus

Pangolins are a prime suspect, but a slew of genetic analyses has yet to find conclusive proof.

Not close enough !

Three similar comparison studies were posted on bioRxiv. One of those papers — by an international research group , posted on 18 February — found that coronaviruses in frozen cell samples from illegally trafficked pangolins shared between 85.5% and 92.4% of their DNA with the virus found in humans. Two other papers published on 20 February, from groups in China, also studied coronaviruses from smuggled pangolins. The viruses were 90.23%3 and 91.02%4 similar, respectively, to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The genetic similarity should be higher than reported in these studies before the host can be identified, says Arinjay Banerjee, who studies coronaviruses at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. He notes that the SARS virus shared 99.8% of its genome with a civet coronavirus, which is why civets were considered the source. If pangolins are the origin of the current outbreak, says Banerjee, it is not the pangolins in these studies.

Key differences

So far, the closest match to the human coronavirus has been found in a bat in China’s Yunnan province. A study published on 3 February found that the bat coronavirus shared 96% of its genetic material with the virus that causes COVID-19. Bats could have passed the virus to humans, but there are key differences between the RBD sites in the two viruses. This suggests that this specific bat coronavirus did not directly infect people, but could have been transmitted it to people through an intermediate host, say researchers.

The papers raise more questions than they answer, says Jiang Zhigang, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology in Beijing. He asks, if pangolins are the source of the virus, and they came from another country, why haven’t there been reports of people being infected in that location?

Sara Platto, who studies animal behaviour at Jianghan University in Wuhan, worries that all the speculation about pangolins being the source could drive people to kill them. Civets were killed en masse after the SARS outbreak. “The problem is not the animals, it’s that we get in contact with them”

African or Malayan Pangolin?

what's the difference?

The research cited opposite was specifically focused on the Malayan Pangolin. This species is found throughout South-East Asia.

Due to Illegal smuggling living animals of this species are brought to Chinese wet markets. The scales and other parts of the animal are used for traditional medicines in China.
The investigation took place because a large number of live Pangolins had been seized by Chinese customs officials. Despite attempts by the people of the Rehabilitation Center, quite a number of animals have died as a result of the poor conditions during smuggling.

The African Pangolin is also widely poached and smuggled for the Chinese traditional medicine markets. However, as far as we know, African animals are hardly smuggled alive. The smuggling from Africa towards Asia mainly focuses on the transport of remains of killed animals, in particular the scales of the poached animals.

The chance that the original Corona virus is brought to Asia in the remains of African Pangolins seems to be out of the question for the time being.

Rather, it appears that the virus is native to Asia and (if not merged with a similar virus from bats) has mutated into the current human-dangerous SARS-CoV-2.

More indications toward smuggled Pangolins

Researchers found that some pangolin viral strains appeared identical to the new coronavirus in humans – and further analysis showed they had 99 per cent of their genes in common.

Lam, T.T., Shum, M.H., Zhu, H. et al. Identifying SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Nature (2020).

A recent 27 march 2020 publication in Nature indicates that not necessary bats were the original hosts of the Corona virus now spreading around the world, but Pangolins illegaly smuggled into China.

A special warning should be given for researchers and interested readers. The pangolin species in which the most corresponding virus was found are the Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica). Not to be confused with the African Pangolin species. So far there has not been found any connection between the African species and possible infection with Coronalike viruses.


The ongoing outbreak of viral pneumonia in China and beyond is associated with a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-21.

This outbreak has been tentatively associated with a seafood market in Wuhan, China, where the sale of wild animals may be the source of zoonotic infection2. Although bats are likely reservoir hosts for SARS-CoV-2, the identity of any intermediate host that might have facilitated transfer to humans is unknown.

Here, we report the identification of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China. Metagenomic sequencing identified pangolin-associated coronaviruses that belong to two sub-lineages of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses, including one that exhibits strong similarity to SARS-CoV-2 in the receptor-binding domain. The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS-CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission.

Felines appear to be sensitive to Coronavirus

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.

However, now that COVID-19 virus infections are widely distributed in the human population there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Infection of animals with SARS-CoV-2 virus may have implications for animal health and welfare, and for wildlife conservation. Especially in Africa where there are still large numbers of large cat species are playing a role in keeping ecosystems in balance.

Until now there are very limited number of reports of canines or felines where contamination has been detected. And those were cases where the animals were in very close proximity to people who may have had COVID-19 themselves. One of the most remarkable contamination was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Furthermore several dogs and cats (domestic cats and a tiger) have tested positive to SARS-CoV-2 virus following close contact with infected humans.

More information can be found on the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association .

Studies are underway to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the SARS-VoV-2 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species.

Preliminary findings from laboratory studies suggest that, of the animal species investigated so far, cats are the most susceptible species and can be affected with clinical disease. In the laboratory setting cats were able to transmit infection to other cats. Ferrets also appear to be susceptible to infection but less so to disease. In the laboratory setting ferrets were also able to transmit infection to other ferrets. Dogs appear to be susceptible to infection but appear to be less affected than ferrets or cats.

By Veronique Fournier -

On the website of HomeoAnimal you can find a very comprehensive article dealing with coronavirus in pets. It is one of the best articles on coronavirus in pets that is available on the web.

We advise veterinarians, but also concerned pet owners to have a look at this page.

You may find here more information, not only about the (new) SARS-CoV-2 virus, but also about other viruses in the corona family which can affect dogs or cats. Including some information about the symptoms on animals infected with one of those viruses.

Positive test on Malayan Tiger (Bronx Zoo)

The following text is lent from the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association .

On April 5, the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced a positive finding of SARS-CoV-2 in samples from one tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. This appears to be the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19.

On April 3, quantitative PCR testing for SARS-Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) on duplicate respiratory tract samples from a four-year-old female Malayan tiger with respiratory signs that was living at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo was performed at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center and New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Presumptive positive results of that testing were confirmed by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory on April 4.

The source of infection was presumed to be transmission from a zookeeper, who at the time of exposure had not yet developed symptoms of COVID-19.

COVID-19 infection in mink

Mustelids, including mink, are susceptible to coronavirus infections. That's because these animals have specific receptors on their lung cells that the virus targets.

Felines, hamsters and monkeys are receptive for the same reason. Corona can also be fatal for these animals, but small numbers are involved. Of the twenty infected cats worldwide, only one death has been reported.

Covid in Dutch Mink

May 8, 2020

On April 26, it was announced that mink on two Brabant mink farms had the disease COVID-19. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) tested the animals positively for the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Pneumonia was seen in the mink section and SARS-CoV-2 was detected in organs and throat swabs. Based on the variations in the genetic codes of the virus, it could be concluded that mink farms have transmitted the virus to each other.

The mink farms had employees working who had symptoms of COVID-19. The virus appears to have been introduced to mink by those workers.

Subsequently, at least one person was most likely infected with the SARS-CoV2 virus through contact with the infected mink.

Current research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 viruses on two of the infected mink farms are very similar.

Martens like the mink are extra sensitive to COVID-19. Dutch researchers have shown that ferrets can infect each other by air. Since minks are closely related to ferrets, they may also be able to transmit the virus to each other.

Like humans, they have a protein on their lungs that the virus likes to attach to; the so-called ACE2 receptor. For example, people also have this "corona coat rack" on their oral mucosa. It appears to be a good predictor of possible COVID-19 contamination.

Virus RNA has been detected in dust particles in the stables, which indicates that people in the stables with infected minks can be exposed to coronavirus.

From mink to cats?

Because antibodies against the virus have been demonstrated in three out of eleven farm cats on one of the infected farms, it is important to further investigate the role of farm cats in potential virus transmission between farms. Further research is still being done on the cats living on the infected mink-farms.

Coronavirus carries a risk for the survival of the great apes

SARS-CoV-2, the corona virusresponsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic, is suspected to be also a threat to our closest livingrelatives, the great apes.

Based on the IUCN Best practice guidelines for health monitoring and disease control in great ape populations National parks in Congo and Rwanda have already shut to tourists and researchers to protect the Gorilla populations.

No great apes have yet been reported to have contracted Covid-19, so the true impact is unknown. But many great apes are already at risk of extinction due to forest destruction and poaching, so the researchers say closing national parks, reserves and zoos must be seriously considered.

Even pathogens producing mild symptoms in humans have been lethal to great apes in the past. The fact that Covid-19 is fatal for some humans leads experts to fear it could potentially prove devastating to great apes.