Synthesising and Assessing the Public Health Risks of SARS-CoV-2 in Animals
Rutherford, Connor Douglas
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Background: SARS-CoV-2 is zoonotic in origin and has retained the capacity to infect animals. If susceptible animal species can readily transmit the virus to other animals or humans, this could extend the pandemic. To assess animal host susceptibility and the potential outcomes of animal-human interactions, I had the following objectives: 1) identify which animal species are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, 2) determine the risks of SARS-CoV-2 exposure to humans from infected wildlife in North America; and 3) describe how the risks of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife could be effectively communicated. Methods: For objective 1), a scoping review was conducted following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews, which identified animal families considered highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. For objective 2, a rapid qualitative risk assessment using the World Organization for Animal Health framework was applied to assess risks of human exposure to SARS-CoV-2 from selected taxonomic families of wildlife in North America. For objective 3, positive and negative instances of risk communication were identified from personal experiences, and suggestions for communicating risks were provided. Results: The scoping review identified 97 source manuscripts investigating 649 animal species from eight different classes. Four different methods were used to evaluate susceptibility: in silico, in vitro, in vivo, and epidemiological analyses. From the identified sources, animal species varied in their evaluated susceptibilities. The risk assessment identified four families that pose a risk to humans: cervids, cricetid rodents, felids, and mustelids. While the likelihood of a human becoming exposed to a wild animal currently shedding SARS-CoV-2 was minimal, the consequences of such an event could be severe. Risk communication can be improved by understanding the characteristics of the target audience and the context in which they will perceive the information. Conclusions: This thesis identified animal families that posed higher risk to humans, and critically evaluated different methods of determining animal susceptibility, emphasizing the importance of epidemiological and in vivo studies. Finally, this thesis emphasized the need for careful and effective communication to lessen confusion and misinformation surrounding SARS-CoV-2, remaining uncertainties, and the need for additional research regarding SARS-CoV-2 in animals.
DegreeMaster of Public Health (M.P.H.)
DepartmentSchool of Public Health
CommitteeBradford, Lori; Epp, Tasha; Brook, Ryan; Griebel, Philip
Copyright DateJune 2022