Pet hamsters sparked a coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong

Imported pet hamsters carried the delta variant of the novel coronavirus into Hong Kong, sparking an area outbreak, a brand new examine suggests. 

The analysis, posted Jan. 28 to the database Preprints with The Lancet, has not but been peer-reviewed, but it surely supplies the primary proof of hamster-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Hamsters could be contaminated with the coronavirus in laboratory settings and are sometimes utilized in analysis, however previous to the Hong Kong outbreak, there wasn’t proof of the rodents passing the virus to people, Nature reported

To this point, the outbreak has affected about 50 individuals and has prompted authorities officers to cull 1000’s of pet hamsters within the metropolis, in accordance with Nature.

Associated: 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history 

The brand new examine initially started after a pet store employee in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district examined optimistic for COVID-19 in January, The Washington Post reported final month. The 23-year-old lady was contaminated with the delta variant, well being officers decided, which was odd as a result of the variant hadn’t been noticed within the metropolis since October 2021, in accordance with Nature. 

The lady hadn’t been in touch with another people recognized to be contaminated, however she had been working within the pet store, known as Little Boss, which sells varied animals, together with hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, the examine authors famous of their report. 

Instances of mink-to-human coronavirus transmission occurred on mink farms early within the pandemic, Live Science previously reported. Suspecting that this is likely to be one other potential case of animal-to-human transmission, Hong Kong well being officers started screening animals on the pet store for proof of coronavirus an infection. Additionally they screened animals on the wholesale market that provides the pet store’s animals. 

The officers did not discover proof of an infection amongst any of the rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, mice or dwarf hamsters that they screened. Nonetheless, the staff discovered that eight out of 16 Syrian hamsters examined on the pet store confirmed proof of SARS-CoV-2 an infection via a optimistic PCR take a look at and/or the presence of antibodies of their blood. The identical was true of seven out of 12 Syrian hamsters examined on the warehouse. Not one of the rodents confirmed overt indicators of sickness, they reported. 

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As this investigation was unfolding, a girl who had lately visited the pet store examined optimistic for COVID-19, and shortly, her partner and kids did as properly. The investigators took samples of coronavirus from the lady, her partner and the pet store employee and analyzed the genome of the virus from every; in addition they analyzed the genomic sequences of viral samples collected from 12 of the 15 contaminated hamsters. All these samples turned out to be a model of the delta variant never-before-seen in Hong Kong, though the sequences weren’t fully equivalent to one another, in accordance with Nature.

Primarily based on these delicate genetic variations, the staff decided that among the hamsters probably caught the coronavirus in November 2021, earlier than being imported to Hong Kong from the Netherlands. They concluded this, partly, as a result of the viral sequences most intently resembled these of samples collected from individuals in European international locations and uploaded to a public database, the authors wrote of their report. 

Upon reaching Hong Kong, the virus then unfold to extra hamsters, selecting up a number of mutations alongside the way in which, earlier than infecting the pet store proprietor and the store buyer on separate events, the researchers suspect. The shopper then handed the virus on to her partner, in a case of human-to-human transmission, the staff concluded. 

In contrast with the delta variant samples from Europe, the viral sequences present in Hong Kong residents and hamsters carried 4 distinctive mutations, the authors reported. Two of those mutations are in genes that code for the spike protein, which the virus makes use of to contaminate cells, and should doubtlessly assist the virus escape some antibodies and enter cells extra effectively. The staff additionally discovered a 3rd spike protein mutation whose results “require additional investigation,” they wrote.    

Regardless of the examine writer’s conclusions, although, there’s nonetheless a chance that the hamsters first caught SARS-CoV-2 after arriving in Hong Kong, Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist on the College of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, informed Nature. “There are such a lot of individuals dealing with hamsters in the course of the strategy of them being transported,” he stated. On their approach to Hong Kong, one batch of hamsters stopped in Doha, Qatar and had been moved to a unique aircraft; the second batch stopped in Bangkok, Thailand however remained on the identical aircraft, the examine authors famous.

That stated, Marion Koopmans, a virologist on the Erasmus College Medical Middle, informed Nature that, just like the authors, she’s satisfied that the hamsters had been contaminated previous to importation. 

In both case, the examine means that hamsters can and do go the coronavirus to individuals, however “to be honest to the hamsters,” individuals are nonetheless more likely to catch the virus from one another, senior writer Leo Poon, a virologist on the College of Hong Kong, informed Nature.

Learn extra in regards to the hamster-driven outbreak in Nature and The Washington Post

Initially revealed on Stay Science.

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