A veterinary infectious disease researcher at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College believes focusing solely on how COVID-19 affects humans cannot effectively address the pandemic — or prevent future ones.
Prof. Scott Weese says it’s become clear that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t adhere to species boundaries. The virus began in animals and has repeatedly, albeit rarely, infected other mammals — including dogs, cats, tigers and mink.
For that reason, a One Health approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health is the best way to approach both research and public messaging to ensure we can get the virus under control, Weese said.
Ignoring this approach could allow the virus to be passed back to animals, where it could potentially create another wildlife reservoir.
As noted in a recent Washington Post article, Weese has been concerned about the risk for inter-species spread for some time. He argued on his popular blog, Worms and Germs back in January – when some public health officials were downplaying concerns the virus posed a threat to pets — that we should assume the coronavirus does infect other species “until proven otherwise.”
Those assumptions turned out to be correct, and as Weese told the Post, the risk of the virus affecting livestock, pets and wildlife was ignored.
Weese advocates for adopting a One Health approach in all public health messaging, such as communicating to pet and livestock owners about what they can do to minimize infection risk, to improve disease control strategies. Those strategies include advising pet owners to physically distance their animals to prevent them from being infected by humans outside their household and to prevent them from infecting wild animals, which could create a new reservoir for the disease.
“Through surveillance and government communication, we want to prevent the spread of this virus to pets, livestock and wildlife from contracting this disease — to benefit their health and to prevent the emergence of further risks to people,” he said.
Weese and pathobiology colleague Prof. Dorothee Bienzle are currently conducting a study to examine the risk COVID-19 poses to pets, seeking to understand why some animals become infected while others do not. The study will investigate what factors contribute to pets becoming infected and which types of households are at highest risk of having human COVID-19 infections spread to pets.
The goal is to help inform veterinarians, public health personnel, animal owners and others about the risks and potential control measures.
Weese is a veterinary internal medicine specialist, the chief of infection control at OVC and a member of the Global 1 Health Network.
He is available for interviews.
Prof. J. Scott Weese