USDA confirms COVID-19 virus found in ferret

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WASHINGTON — The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced Sept. 24 confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in a ferret in Florida. This is the first ferret confirmed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the United States. A ferret was previously reported with the virus in Slovenia. 

Samples from the ferret were taken after it showed clinical signs including sneezing and coughing. It is suspected that the ferret acquired the infection from a person with COVID-19. Samples from the ferret tested presumptive positive at Florida’s Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and the case was confirmed at the USDA laboratories. 

The National Veterinary Services Laboratories serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases. Such testing is required for certain animal diseases in the United States in order to comply with national and international reporting procedures. 

Testing

The World Organisation for Animal Health considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, and therefore USDA must report confirmed U.S. animal infections to it. SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in a small number of animal species worldwide, mostly in animals that had close contact with a person with COVID-19. At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended. 

State, tribal, local and territorial animal health and public health officials will work with USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2, using a One Health approach. USDA will announce cases of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in animals each time the virus is found in a new species. 

Confirmed cases in animals are posted at aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_one_health/sars-cov-2-animals-us. 

Risk

While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans. We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals. Based on the information available, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low. 

People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection. For more information about COVID-19 and animals and recommendations for pet owners and people who work around animals, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/animals/pets-other-animals.html 

For more information about how and when to test animals, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/animals/animal-testing.html and https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf

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