The pandemic is now part of our daily life and we are learning, as best we can, to live with it. But does the Covid-19 virus have consequences for our animals, can it be transmitted to the degus? This is a question that can be asked, especially with a positive test for the disease.
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Coronavirus, Covid-19 & variants
Covid 19, or Covid 19 disease, is an infectious disease related to the virus called SARS-CoV-21.
It is a virus belonging to the Betacoronavirus genus, which includes about fifteen species. This group of viruses infects mammals such as bats, but also camels, dromedaries, or “livestock” animals, such as rabbits, pigs, horses and cows, and finally humans. Other infected species have also been observed, such as dogs and cats. Covid-19 is considered a zoonosis, i.e. a disease transmissible from animals to humans. Several strains of betacoronavirus have been identified in humans, such as SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 (the Covid 19 disease), or MERS-Cov. These infectious diseases include respiratory symptoms, which can be fatal.
Covid-19 disease originated in Asia, specifically in the city of Wuhan, China. Although the virus is naturally present in certain bat colonies found in China, its passage to humans remains unclear. Several hypotheses have been explored to date, from direct transmission between humans and bats, to the passage through an intermediate host (at the time, the pangolin was often mentioned), or from a laboratory. However, to date, it is not possible to determine the precise origin of the disease.
The disease has rapidly spread to the rest of the world, becoming a pandemic. Thus, it ranks with AIDS, the Spanish flu, the plague pandemics or cholera.
The Covid 19 disease presents a virus that mutates very quickly, i.e. it changes in its genes. If one of these mutations results in a version of the virus that is similar enough that it can still be considered the same species, then it is called a variant. These variations are often harmless, but they can change the way the virus responds (more contagious) or infects (more virulent). The more the virus circulates from host to host, the more variants are likely to appear. It is therefore essential to successfully regulate the global circulation of the virus.
Covid-19 is a virus that is transmitted by aerosol2 3, i.e. via the presence of microdroplets in the air, by spitting or droplets spread by coughing. This is why it is essential to blow your nose properly, cough into your elbow or into a handkerchief and wash your hands regularly.
To learn more about Covid-19, we offer a selection of useful resources:
- World Health Organization – Questions and Answers
- World Health Organization – Covid-19 News
Limiting the spread of the virus
To date, there are several ways to limit the spread of the virus:
- Vaccination (messenger RNA, non-replicating or inactivated virus vector4);
- Barrier measures5;
- The drug against Covid-19 (Paxlovid®6).
Scientific research is still underway in the hope of finding a solution to completely eradicate the virus, or at least stop the pandemic.
Covid-19 and animals
If the SARS-CoV-2 has triggered a pandemic in humans, it is known to date that they are not the only living beings to be contaminated by the coronavirus. Indeed, many animals can be affected. First of all, bats, potential source of the epidemic, although this is not yet well defined. However, other animals close to humans have been infected, such as cats, dogs 7, cattle, rabbits8. However, diseased wild animals, such as white-tailed deer and bank vole, have been found9. The list of species that could be a potential reservoir of the virus is rather short at this time, but it is not impossible that other animals could contract Covid-19. Pets are also affected, especially cats which are more susceptible than dogs. But we also find contaminations in rabbits, hamsters, mice, ferrets and rats10.
Contamination of animals by humans poses many problems, especially since it is possible that the pandemic cannot be contained if populations of “reservoir” animals regularly contaminate humans. For the moment, it is not possible to determine if this scenario could happen or not, but the consequences could be dramatic11. he most dangerous contaminations remain towards wild animals12, whose populations and containment cannot be put in place. Moreover, as the coronavirus mutates very rapidly, it could become more dangerous for humans if it turns out that contamination is possible.
Two cases of contamination from animals to humans are currently suspected, the first in 2020, in a mink farm, the virus having been spread to mink by contaminated employees, then having contaminated the farm before recontaminating humans13. At the beginning of 2022, it was a potential contamination of the hamster to humans that prompted Hong Kong to cull an entire farm14. However, it is important to take a step back from these data, where research is still ongoing.
Finally, it is also important to underline the negative effect observed since the pandemic: the increase in abandonment. According to the president of the SPA (society for the protection of animals – France), since 2019, a record increase in abandonments has been recorded, including 56% more abandonments among new pets, which includes the degus15. To date, neither the WHO nor the ANSES pronounce an increased risk of having pets during the pandemic.
Covid 19 & Octodon degus
But what about the relationship between Coid-19 and the Octodon degus? Octodons are less common than hamsters, rats and mice, so they are also less used in the laboratory. However, a study has investigated the similarity of virus attachment sites in several species, including Octodon degus, for Wuhan (original strain) and Delta16. So it is now conceivable that degus can be contaminated. This depends on many factors and the regular mutations of the virus can change these data. It remains interesting to put in place good daily practices in order to avoid any risk of infection, and this can be the case for any species.
However, this does not prove the fact that degus can be a potential pool for humans and vice versa. Inter-species contamination has never been described with degu, so there is no danger at the moment.
The good gestures in everyday life
As for human beings, simple daily gestures remain effective to limit the transmission towards animals. First of all, regular ventilation is essential, even in winter. Indeed, the virus is spread by micro-droplets, which remain suspended in the air, carrying the Covid. It is advised to air a room used 10 minutes every hour17 to evacuate the virus. It is also recommended to wash your hands before/after handling animals. Finally, sneeze or cough into a tissue if necessary.
These daily gestures are simple to carry out and allow to protect all the inhabitants gathered under the same roof.
What to do if I have a degus and I am sick with Covid?
In case of contamination with the Coronavirus, it is advisable to be careful on the procedure to follow to avoid contaminating its degus. Here are some useful recommendations to follow9 :
- Avoid contacts with animals (hugs, kisses, food, …).
- Wash your hands regularly and before/after each handling of the animals, their food or their supplies.
- Avoid coughing/sneezing on your animals.
- Air the room for 10 minutes every hour.
- Have an uncontaminated third party care for your animals.
- Do not isolate yourself in a room with animals.
- Wear a mask when caring for your pet and/or on a daily basis to limit contamination.
- Avoid outside contact with other people/animals. Isolate yourself as much as possible.
- If in doubt, do not hesitate to call your veterinarian and/or a veterinarian on call.
- Organisation mondiale de la santé – Coronavirus[↩]
- La revue du praticien – Transmissions Covid19[↩]
- Institut Pasteur – Etude COMCOR[↩]
- Vaccination Info Service[↩]
- Organisation mondiale de la santé – Conseils au grand public[↩]
- Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) exposure in pet cats and dogs in Minnesota, USA[↩]
- Fiche technique OIE – INFECTION PAR LE SARS-COV-2 CHEZ LES ANIMAUX[↩]
- Santé publique Canada[↩][↩]
- AVIS de l’Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail relatif au rôle épidémiologique éventuel de certaines espèces anima les dans le maintien et la propagation du virus SARS CoV 2[↩]
- Wired – The threat nobody is talking about? Covid spillback[↩]
- Covid-19 aux États-Unis : des cerfs pourraient être à l’origine d’un nouveau variant, selon des chercheurs[↩]
- SARS-CoV-2 Transmission between Mink (Neovison vison) and Humans, Denmark[↩]
- Hong Kong : transmission du SARS-CoV-2 de hamsters de compagnie à l’homme, suivie d’une diffusion interhumaine[↩]
- Europe 1 – Abandons SPA[↩]
- Systematic Tracing of Susceptible Animals to SARS-CoV-2 by a Bioinformatics Framework – This source should be considered with caution, given the methods, the source and the many translation errors.[↩]
- Covid-19 : pourquoi il faut aérer 10 minutes toutes les heures[↩]