Why researchers should test wild animals for COVID-19

(Grand Portage, Minn.) – To perform this COVID test, Todd Kautz had to put ice on his stomach and melt his upper body into the narrow pit of a sleeping black bear. Exercising the light on his nose, Kautz carefully melted a long cotton ball into the bear’s nostrils.

For postdoctoral researcher Kautz and a team of other wildlife experts, finding the coronavirus is a combination of ice heat, snowy roads, walking in deep snow and near comfort. to terrible wild animals.

They are testing bears, moose, deer and wolves in an American encampment in a remote forest about 5 miles from Canada. Like researchers around the world, they are trying to figure out how, to what extent and where wild animals spread the disease.

Scientists are concerned that the disease could develop in a large number of animals – it could develop dangerous viral mutants that can re -infect humans, spread among us and rule the universe. considered by some to be a form of problem.

Coronavirus infection has been treated as an important and dangerous feature of the relationship between animal health and human health. Although the cause of the disease has not been confirmed, most scientists say it may have been transmitted from bats to humans, directly or through other means sold in Wuhan, China.

The disease has now been confirmed in wild animals in about 24 U.S. states, including Minnesota. More recently, a Canadian study than any other in Ontario reported a major change from a deer.

“If the disease can establish itself in a wildlife sanctuary, it will always stand with the threat of repatriating the population,” said University of Minnesota researcher Matthew Aliota. working with the Grand Portage Reservation team.

EJ Isaac, a fish and wildlife breeder who cares for the Grand Portage Ojibwe home, said he expected the height to rise at the start of the spring, as it rises. bears from hibernation and deer and wolves in different places.

“If we think there are a lot of styles and they all come together in some way, their looks and their movement can greatly increase the amount of shipment that will come,” he said.

In the forest

Their research was intended to prevent such a tragedy. But he takes his own risks.

Seth Moore, a leader in biology and environmental studies, was almost bitten by a wolf.

And sometimes they join a team from the Texas company Heliwild to catch animals from the air. On a cold winter afternoon, the men climb into a small helicopter with no side windows to climb over the trees. At low flight, they immediately see a deer in a clearing forest. They shot the beast from the air with the net gun and released Moore.

The wind blew in his face as he made deep snow to quickly wash the deer’s nose for COVID, put on a collar and collect blood and biological samples for similar research. zero.

The males catch the moose in the same way, using tranquilizer shots instead of the net. They send wolves and deer away from the sky or on the earth, and the bear snares on the ground.

They saw the young male bear that they tried because they had followed him before. To get to the pit, they had to take the snowmobiles down a hill, then take a narrow, winding path with snow boots.

As Kautz crawled into the pit, a colleague grabbed him by the legs to quickly pull him out if necessary. The group also gives the drug to the animal to sleep on and some later to counteract the effects of the former.

To reduce the risk of animal transmission to COVID, the males were fully vaccinated and stimulated and tested frequently.

The day after the bear test, Isaac arranged for their samples to be sent to the Aliota factory in Saint Paul. The medical and biomedical researcher hopes to learn not only which animals get the disease but whether some animals are acting as a “bridge type” to take others. Experiments with red foxes and racoons can be increased.

The disease may not have reached this far – but. Having traveled the deserts of Minnesota and nearby states, Aliota said it was only a matter of time.

Looking for mutants

The close relationship between humans and animals that allows disease to overcome the barriers that are built to spread between species.

In order to capture a living organism, the disease must enter its cells, which is not always easy. Virology expert David O’Connor likens the process of opening a “lock” to the virus’ spike protein “key.”

“There are different types of locks, and none of them can be selected by the key,” said a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But the other locks for the virus are the same that enters the zoo and makes a copy of itself. As it works, it can switch normally and get the right key to the human lock. It could re -infect humans by interacting with living animals, scientists believe.

Although spillback is rare, only one person can bring a mutated disease into the human realm.

Some believe that the omicron species evolved from an animal rather than a defenseless human, as many believe. Virologist Marc Johnson of the University of Missouri is one of them, and he sees animals as the “root cause of pi,” the Greek letter used to identify the type of dangerous coronavirus that is to come. ana.

Johnson and his colleagues were diagnosed with other lines of the coronavirus in New York City with mutations not seen elsewhere, which he believed came from animals or rodents. .

The main concern of scientists is that current or future species could form on their own and multiply in a body of water.

One possibility: a white tail. Scientists detected coronavirus in a third of deer tested in Iowa between September 2020 and January 2021. Some found COVID-19 antibodies in a third of deer tested in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. There were no signs of deer disease. Experimentation of other game types is restricted or not.

“The disease may be spreading to many animals,” said virologist Suresh Kuchipudi of Pennsylvania State University, an author of the Iowa deer study. If left untreated, the disease can leave people “completely blind,” he said.

Can it be stopped?

Finally, experts say the only way to prevent disease from spreading between animals and humans – is to increase the spread of the disease or to create a new one. – is to address major problems such as habitat destruction and the sale of wildlife.

“We’re entering animal shelters like we’ve never seen before in history,” Aliota said. “Sppillover events from wild animals into humans, however, I think, will increase in frequency and scope.”

To combat that threat, three international organizations – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Health Organization – are urging countries to conduct COVID monitoring of animals are important.

At Grand Portage, Aliota’s colleagues continue their part by trying out as many animals as they can catch.

With the snow of Lake Superior glistening among the evergreen greens, Isaac melted his hand under the net of a deer trap. A coworker holding the animal lifted its head from the snow so Isaac could clean its nostrils.

The young head ran forward a short time, but it took a long time for Isaac to get what he needed.

“Good,” his co -worker said as Isaac put the sample in a jar.

When they had finished, they slowly lifted the trap to release the deer. It was close to the big forest without looking back, disappearing into the snow shade.

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