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One Health - Building an Early Warning System for SARS-CoV-2 and Other Animal Diseases

One Health Home SARS-CoV-2 in Animals Building an Early Warning System Keeping Animals and People Safe For Animal Health Officials and Veterinarians

With funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, we are bringing together experts from across APHIS—whether they focus on wildlife diseaseslivestock, or companion and zoo animals—and partnering with other agencies that protect human and environmental health to take a One Health approach to the problems the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has highlighted. Our priority is to understand SARS-CoV-2 and how it moves between people and animals. This includes learning more about the virus, which animals it affects, and how it is spreading to new locations or species. Long term we expect to build national capacity to potentially prevent or limit the next zoonotic disease outbreak, or the next global pandemic.

Current Projects

Evaluation of municipal wastewater-associated wildlife as potential sources of mutations of SARS-CoV-2

Start Date: Fall 2021

APHIS wildlife disease specialists are collaborating with University of Missouri researchers to capture and sample wildlife in and around wastewater systems in New York. Researchers are testing blood and tissue samples from rodents (Rattus sp.), raccoons, and other wildlife to look for evidence of exposure and infection to SARS-CoV-2 virus.  If the virus can be isolated from any samples, researchers will sequence the genome to identify any potential viral mutations and better understand its spread and transmissibility. Researchers are particularly interested in assessing whether rats or other wildlife can serve as reservoirs for the virus and whether this may play a role in emergence of new virus variants that may impact human and animal health.

SARS-CoV-2 in White-tailed Deer

Start Date: Fall 2021

White-tailed deer can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 and transmit the virus to other deer. This project will help APHIS and its partners better understand the impacts of SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer and how widespread it is in the United States. This project will also help us understand if deer can serve as a reservoir for the virus, which could lead to new virus variants that may impact the health of deer, other animals, and people. In the initial phase of this project, APHIS will partner with state agencies and tribes across the United States to opportunistically collect samples from hunter harvested white-tailed deer. APHIS will also opportunistically sample deer during their wildlife damage management and state harvest activities. Later phases of this project will focus on more targeted sampling based on what we learn during this initial phase.

Mink SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Avoidance and Monitoring Plan (Mink STAMP)

Start Date: Fall 2021

APHIS is launching a voluntary cooperative federal-state-industry effort to actively monitor for SARS-CoV-2 infection on mink farms and minimize risk of transmission of the virus between mink and human caretakers on U.S. mink farms. Our goal is to detect virus introduction into mink herds, conduct One Health investigations when SARS-CoV-2 is identified or suspected, and monitor for emergence of any new variants. The effort offers education, incentives, and infrastructure support for active SARS-CoV-2 monitoring and response, including surveillance of susceptible wildlife populations on or near mink farms; multimedia, multi-lingual biosecurity training materials for mink farm workers; and recommendations for herd management to help keep producers in business while still fully protecting people and mink from SARS-CoV-2.

Zoo and Aquarium Serology Study

Start Date: Spring 2022

The Zoo and Aquarium Serology Study will solicit and test serum samples from participating zoos and aquariums across the country to identify animals that may have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The study will also test free-ranging wildlife species on and around zoo premises for SARS-CoV-2 exposure and infection.  APHIS will assess biosecurity and epidemiological risks at each facility, using a standard protocol to be developed by One Health partners. Researchers will use the assessments to compare practices and risks against the percentage of animals with a history of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. This will help identify recommended practices that facilities may adopt to prevent future SARS-CoV-2 infections. APHIS will publish a final report that can be used to strengthen the Secure Zoo Strategy.

Serosurvey of SARS-CoV-2 in wild canids and other susceptible mesocarnivores

Start Date: Spring 2022

Research shows that SARS-CoV-2 infections are not limited to people, and that multiple wild and domestic animal species can also be infected by the virus. Currently, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by SARS-CoV-2. This project helps us start to answer that question. This project provides baseline data on the wild animal species exposed to SAR-CoV-2 by screening blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from a variety of wildlife species in the United States. APHIS will leverage its existing wildlife sample archive to identify species exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and establish baseline data on antibody prevalence in those species. Results will help APHIS and other researchers target animal surveillance (species and locations) and experimental infection research, as well as shed light on novel SARS-CoV-2 wildlife reservoirs that could potentially seed future outbreaks and contribute to the evolution of novel virus variants.

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Strategic Framework

Our Strategic Framework outlines how we are focusing our efforts to prevent, detect, investigate and respond to SARS-CoV-2 in animals, as well as other emerging diseases that could pose a threat to both people and animals.

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