CAHFS Weekly Update: The second feline COVID-19 case in MN; Not all birds are similar for Lyme transmission; Concerns remain on China’s ability to prevent animal diseases from spreading
Catalina Picasso Risso


The second feline COVID-19 case in MN 

A Sumatran/Bengal tiger from the Pine County wildlife sanctuary tested positive for COVID-19 this past week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed Sabrina, a 21 years old tiger, as the second COVID-19 confirmed case (captive or domestic animal) in the state of Minnesota. The animal was tested after presenting a dry cough and wheezing symptomatology. The positive result came nine months after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a wildcat at the Bronx Zoo in 2020. 

This case is a reminder that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted from humans to animals. While concluding evidence does not indicate that transmission from felines to humans is possible, the state veterinarians encourage MN veterinarians to contact their office to discuss potential testing and surveillance strategies for exposed and symptomatic animals.

Two different feline coronavirus are well known and have been described globally. These viruses are capable of infection in both domestic and wild felines, and while typically considered a gastrointestinal infection, it can affect the respiratory system. Still, it is important to remember that COVID-19 (sars-cov-2) and feline coronaviruses are quite different pathogens. Until now, there is no evidence that prior exposure to feline coronaviruses will protect against SARS-like viruses, hence it is prudent to follow COVID-19 safety protocols when interacting with wild or domestic felines.



Not all birds are similar for Lyme transmission

In a recent study performed by Indiana University, researchers have identified bird species with a higher likelihood to transmit Lyme disease. The bacterium, Borrelia Burgdorferi, and to a less extent Borrelia Mayonii, are the causing agents of Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. There are approximately 300,000 cases each year, with the large majority occurring in the eastern United States.

Ticks have been identified in 183 bird species, from which 91 carried ticks’ positive for Borrelia burgdorferi. With the combination of machine learning algorithms and multiple characteristics of the birds, such as phenotypical (observable characteristics of an individual), clinical, geographical, and behavioral, the research team identified with an 80% accuracy, birds’ species with higher competency to spread Lyme disease. Results from this study recommended monitoring additional 21 new bird species in the Lyme surveillance programs.

Lyme's typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and erythema migraines. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. 

To prevent infection the CDC recommends:

  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin before going outdoors. 
  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Walk in the center of trails and paths.
  • When coming indoors, check your clothing for ticks, examine your body, pets, and gear for ticks, and shower soon after coming back.



Concerns remain on China’s ability to prevent animal diseases from spreading

China has engaged in the revision of Animal Epidemic Prevention laws. After the spread of African swine fever (ASF) in 2018, which is still causing struggles to the Chinese swine industry, and the additional impact of Covid-19 pandemic, it became evident that infectious disease spread preventive strategies in China need to be reviewed. The new set of measures are expected to improve biosecurity and public health security. The measures will include quarantine standards for captive-bred wildlife; an updated system for classifying animal epidemics based on their impact on human health and the economy; obligatory vaccinations; and stipulations for veterinarians to pass qualification tests.

These current measures include the ban to transport animals without health certification, specific rules regarding wastewater treatment and sterilization facilities, and the distancing requirements on farms, slaughterhouses, and processing facilities from human communities. Wang Gongmin, the deputy chief of the agriculture ministry’s Department of Veterinary Services, has stated that in order to address animal disease prevention adequately, China would need to increase four times the number of veterinarians, something difficult to implement at least in the short term. However, international experts warn that China’s biggest challenge is not the revision and creation of a new set of rules but its capacity to enforce the current measures. 

Epidemic prevention and preparedness is a global concern. The United Nations, with the commemoration of the First International Day of Epidemic Preparedness last December 27th, is advocating, encouraging, and supporting countries to devote capacities and resources towards this end to be ready to confront future health emergencies.


Star Tribune
Veterinary Microbiology

Cary institute
Global Ecology and Biogeography

The Guardian
United Nations
News China

Catalina Picasso-Risso

Catalina Picasso Risso

Catalina Picasso-Risso, DVM, MS, PhD is a Post-Doctoral associate at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota. She is originally from Uruguay, where she received her DVM (2009) and worked as a government veterinarian for six years.

She completed her MS (2016) and PhD (2019) at the University of Minnesota on epidemiology and diagnosis of bovine tuberculosis using bayesian tools. Picasso is also an assistant professor at the College of Veterinary medicine at the University of Uruguay where she teaches statistics and advance-epidemiology courses. Her current work focuses on building capacities on the use of epidemiological tools to improve animal health and food safety globally.