(USDA/APHIS) — The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection in a snow leopard at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky. This is the first snow leopard in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2. Confirmatory testing is ongoing for two other snow leopards at the zoo.
Samples from three snow leopards were taken after they showed signs of respiratory illness. All three of the snow leopards are expected to fully recover. It is suspected that they acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite precautions taken by the zoo.
SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in a small number of animals worldwide, mostly in animals that had close contact with a person with COVID-19. At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended. State and local animal health and public health officials will work with USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2, using a One Health approach.
USDA will announce cases of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in animals each time the virus is found in a new species. Confirmed cases in animals are updated weekly and are posted at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_one_health/sars-cov-2-animals-us.
The snow leopards tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at NVSL. NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases. Such testing is required for certain animal diseases in the U.S. in order to comply with national and international reporting procedures. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, and therefore USDA must report confirmed U.S. animal infections to the OIE.
While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans.
We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals, but there is currently no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people. Based on the information available, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.
It appears that people with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.
For more information about COVID-19 and animals and recommendations for pet owners, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/animals/pets-other-animals.html
For more information about testing in animals, see https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf