Suspend Sale of Captured Live Wildlife in Food Markets Warns WHO and Partners

THE World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agricultural organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have issued a statement condemning the sale of live wild mammals as well as the slaughtering of sickly wild animals as a means to prevent the spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants between humans and wild animals.

By Michael Gwarisa

The call follows indications that certain wildlife species have been observed to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in some parts of the world.  These species include domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have thus far been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. To date, farmed mink and pet hamsters have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a potential case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human is currently under review.

We encourage collaboration between national veterinary services and national wildlife authorities, whose partnership is key to promoting animal health and safeguarding human and environmental health. Promote monitoring of wildlife and encourage sampling of wild animals known to be potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Share all genetic sequence data from animal surveillance studies through publicly available databases.

“Report confirmed animal cases of SARS-CoV-2 to the OIE through the World Animal Health Information System (OIE-WAHIS). Craft messages about SARS-CoV-2 in animals with care so that inaccurate public perceptions do not negatively impact conservation efforts. No animal found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 should be abandoned, rejected, or killed without providing justification from a country- or event-specific risk assessment. Suspend the sale of captured live wild mammals in food markets as an emergency measure, reads the statement.

They also feared that failure to monitor SARS-CoV-2 transmission between wildlife and humans might lead to the establishment of animal reservoirs as it has  been reported that, approximately one-third of wild white-tailed deer in the United States of America have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, initially via several human-to-deer transmission events. The SARS-CoV-2 lineages detected in white-tailed deer have also been circulating in close-by human populations. White-tailed deer have been shown to shed virus and transmit it between each other.

“We urge authorities to adopt relevant regulations and disseminate previously released recommendations by FAO, OIE and WHO to people working in close contact with or handling wildlife, including hunters and butchers; and the public.

“Personnel working closely with wildlife should be trained to implement measures that reduce the risk of transmission between people and between people and animals, using WHO advice on how to protect oneself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and OIE and FAO guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene practices around animals, including good hygiene practices for hunters and butchers.”

Current evidence suggests that humans are not infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus by
eating meat. However, hunters have been urged not to track animals that appear sick
or harvest those that are found dead.

“FAO, OIE and WHO stress that the public should be educated about contact with wildlife. Some wild animals may come close to human settlements and residential areas. As a general precaution, people should not approach or feed wild animals or touch or eat those that are orphaned, sick or found dead (including road kills). Instead, they should contact local wildlife authorities or a wildlife health professional.”

It is also crucial to safely dispose of uneaten food, masks, tissues, and any other human waste to avoid attracting wildlife, especially to urban areas and, if possible, keep domestic animals away from wildlife and their droppings.

“Appropriate butchering and food preparing techniques, including proper hygiene practices, can limit transmission of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and other zoonotic pathogens. FAO, OIE and WHO stress that the public should be educated about contact with wildlife. Some wild animals may come close to human settlements and residential areas.

“As a general precaution, people should not approach or feed wild animals or touch or eat those that are orphaned, sick or found dead (including road kills). Instead, they should contact local wildlife authorities or a wildlife health professional. It is also crucial to safely dispose of uneaten food, masks, tissues, and any other human waste to avoid attracting wildlife, especially to urban areas and, if possible, keep domestic animals away from wildlife and their droppings.”

 

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