Researchers studying if humans can transmit COVID to wild animals

To date, only a single wild animal has been found with COVID-19, that was a wild mink, found by the USDA near one of those mink farms in Utah," said wildlife researcher Kaitlin Sawatzki.

Sawatzki and her team at Tufts University have spent the past year investigating the potential for COVID-19 transmission from humans into both domestic and wild animals. After learning about the wild mink a few months back, they continued their research to see if the virus is actively spreading to other wild animals.

"Wildlife are all around us. Urban wildlife are real. Rats are wildlife, raccoons, possums, mice are wildlife. So there is always a potential that even in your home you could accidentally expose a wild animal," said Sawatzki.

Here in New York animals in captivity have tested positive for COVID-19, including lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo back in April. More recently, captive gorillas at the San Diego Zoo. Those animals obviously came into close contact with humans, but Sawatzki points to other ways wildlife could possibly get the virus.

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"Our concern that there could be an accidental spillover, either directly from a human or even something like waste water, untreated waste water that goes out into the ocean, there are plenty of susceptible animals there, like seals, whales."

So far Sawatzki and her team at Tufts have tested about three hundred wild animals since April. The majority of those animals were at rehab centers, which is most likely the closest they’ll get to humans. All of those animals have tested positive for the virus. The researchers plan to continue their surveillance for at least another year.