CCMB lab issues testing rules for animals

‘We regularly test wildlife samples using DNA-based molecular biology tools’

Various species of animals can be infected with SARS-COV-2 — gorillas, tigers, lions, pumas, cougars and snow leopards, ferrets and minks as well as cats, dogs, bank voles, ferrets, fruit bats, hamsters, mink, pigs, rabbits, raccoon dogs, tree shrews, and white-tailed deer. Current studies do not indicate that animals spread infection back to humans.

COVID symptoms in animals may include a lack of appetite, anorexia, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, fever and respiratory distress. If any or all the above symptoms are noticed, then samples must be collected and sent immediately for diagnostics, including RT-PCR test.

All of these are easier said than done! CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB)’s Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), one of the four designated centres for testing animal samples for possible coronavirus infection, has just released guidelines for the frontline zoo personnel on COVID-19 investigation in captive animals.

LaCONES started testing animal samples for possible SARS-CoV-2 infection in August last year and scientists found the first positive samples from Asiatic lions in the Nehru Zoological Park in April this year. LaCONES team has tried testing for coronavirus using different kinds of nasal, oropharyngeal, rectal and faecal samples from the animals.

“We regularly test wildlife samples using DNA-based molecular biology tools to solve wildlife cases and these tests are very similar to the ones being used for coronavirus testing,” informed scientist-in-charge at LaCONES, Karthikeyan Vasudevan on Monday.

The guidelines prepared in collaboration with the Central Zoo Authority and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change details what to look out for among animals having the virus, treatment, diet, sample collection, protective equipment, post-mortems, how to disinfect, transport samples, etc.

National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases in Bhopal, National Research Centre on Equines in Hisar, Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic, ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly apart from LaCONES are designated institutions for testing samples.

“Guidelines provide detailed protocols with pictorials and frequently asked questions for an easier understanding of those collecting samples for COVID testing in wildlife,” said CCMB director Vinay K. Nandicoori.

“We hope our recommendations will smoothen the process for zoos and testing centres. Given how difficult it is to get samples from animals, it is all the more important that we make most of the samples we get,” added Dr. Vasudevan.

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