Serological surveillance of potential wildlife reservoirs for the COVID‑19 virus (SARS-CoV-2)
The current COVID‑19 pandemic is caused by the SARS2-coronavirus (SARS2-CoV) that spilled over into humans either directly from a wildlife reservoir host, or through an intermediary animal. The cells of many animals possess angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the receptor for SARS2-CoV, and several species of domestic and wild animals, including cats, ferrets and some species of bats, can be experimentally or naturally infected by the virus. As the COVID‑19 pandemic rages through human populations with devastating effects, there is a small but distinct possibility that the virus may infect and establish itself in free living wildlife. These animals could then serve as a reservoir from which the virus may subsequently spill back into humans. Efficient replication or amplification of the virus in this reservoir species would increases chances reintroduction into humans. In addition, viral mutations accumulated as the virus adapts to its new reservoir may yield virus withunpredictable consequences.
Serological blood tests to detect antibodies in humans are rapidly being developed and used to detect the proportion and spread of the virus in previously exposed individuals, However, such a test that can simultaneously detect COVID‑19 exposure in a wide variety of animal species does not yet exist. We propose to develop and validate a universal test that would detect and quantify antibodies against SARS2-CoV in wildlife blood or tissue samples. Such a test would then be used for initiatingsurveillance of an array of wild and domestic species infection hotspots across Canada. This proposal brings together investigators that have successfully developed suchtests to detect antibodies against corona and herpesviruses in various bat species, as well as researchers and organizations that routinely work with and sample a wide range of wild and domestic animals. We expect this project will lead to a coordinated cross-Canada network to monitor COVID‑19 and possibly other coronavirus’ in wildlife to act as a warning system to identify and prevent the re-emergence of COVID‑19 disease.