Bronx Zoo Tiger Tests Positive for COVID-19

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The novel COVID-19-causing coronavirus originally made the jump from animals to humans in late 2019. However, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the virus, showing that it is capable of jumping back across species. The tiger in question, a four-year-old female named Nadia, was tested out of an abundance of caution when she developed a dry cough and loss of appetite.

Bengal tiger in a zoo exhibit
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The surprising results of the test were confirmed by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa. Nadia is the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus jumping from a human back to an animal, and that animal developing an illness.

How Did Nadia Get Sick?

The tiger is assumed to have contracted the illness from one of her handlers. This handler was still working at the zoo while carrying COVID-19, though they were asymptomatic at the time. After that handler developed symptoms and Nadia seemed sick, the zoo ordered the test. While the zoo has been monitoring her symptoms, including managing AFIB, veterinary experts are assuming that the tiger would be unable to pass the disease back to humans.

Six other big cats in the zoo have also been showing COVID-19 symptoms. According to veterinarians, however, they don’t appear to be in any danger. All of the affected animals are likely to make full recoveries. However, Nadia’s illness does raise interesting questions about cross-species infection.

Can Your Pets Get COVID-19?

Generally speaking, it seems unlikely that companion animals could be infected by human COVID-19 carriers. So far, a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for COVID-19, as did a cat in Belgium, but neither showed symptoms. According to the doctors responsible for the tests, the virus was not active in the cultures from either animal.

The reasoning for this is complex, as the virus bonds to the same types of structures in the cells of both humans and companion animals. However, the type of coronavirus that can affect humans and propagate widely is unable to perform as well in an animal like a cat or dog.

Likewise, your pet is unlikely to contract COVID from walking around your neighborhood. And if they had it, they’re not likely to spread it to you. While cats seem to be able to contract and spread the illness among other cats, they show no outward symptoms. Dogs, similarly, can contract it, but seem to be very resistant to community spread.