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To: Yorikke who wrote (15724)12/6/2021 9:08:27 AM
From: Pogeu Mahone  Read Replies (1) of 16090
 
Omicron variant’s unusual mutations could mean it spread from an animal, scientists suggest


In this photo illustration, a phone screen shows a text that says Omicron COVID-19. (Photo by Mykola Tys / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

By ALEXI COHAN | alexi.cohan@bostonherald.com | Boston Herald
PUBLISHED: December 5, 2021 at 5:49 p.m. | UPDATED: December 5, 2021 at 5:49 p.m.

The unusual multitude of mutations on the omicron variant’s spike protein could suggest some level of animal transmission, scientists suggest, as the coronavirus has been found to spread to dogs, cats, mink, deer and many others.

“If the virus moves into an animal host and is transmitted and widespread in that animal host, it has a new opportunity to change,” said Dr. Jonathan Runstadler, professor and chair of the department of infectious disease and global health at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

The new omicron variant has “a very unusual constellation of changes” with greater than 30 of them in the spike protein, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, which differs greatly from other coronavirus variants such as delta.

Runstadler said coronavirus “spillover” into animals, and then back into humans could be a possible explanation for omicron, though it has not yet been determined how the variant came about.

“It has a number of mutations and differences from the virus that has been circulating that are not easily explained,” Runstadler told the Herald.

Suresh Kuchipudi, professor of emerging infectious diseases at Penn State also said omicron could have come from an animal host in a recent opinion piece.

He wrote, “In a study that is not yet peer-reviewed, an international team that I lead recently reported widespread infection by SARS-CoV-2 in free-living and captive white-tailed deer in the U.S. Therefore, we also cannot rule out the possibility that the omicron variant emerged in an animal host through rapid evolution.”

Although the risk of coronavirus spread to animals is low, reports of infected animals have included cats, dogs, mink, ferrets, otters, tigers, hyenas and most recently, white-tailed deer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of the animals can spread the disease to others of the same species in laboratory settings.

In the case of farmed mink in several countries including the United States, the animals often caught the virus from human caretakers, spread it to other mink and it even spilled back into humans in certain cases.

Most animals don’t get ill in the same way humans do, and animal transmission is not a large driver of spread, said Runstadler. However, he said if someone does get infected with coronavirus, it’s best not to have close contact with household pets to be safe.

“As long as we have extensive circulation in humans, we have the potential for animal hosts and additional animal hosts to be infected. That’s probably not good for anybody,” Runstadler said.

The most recent finding of the coronavirus in white-tailed deer in the United States was surprising, said Runstadler, considering they have little to no close interactions with humans.

A study done with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture looked at 481 deer and found 158 of them tested positive for the coronavirus, the most in Michigan.

It remains unknown how they were exposed, but Runstadler said it could be through other animals or the environment, such as contact with sewage or contaminated water.

While the spread of the coronavirus to animals isn’t currently an area of concern, Runstadler said keeping the virus out of our furry friends is the smart thing to do, and it could avoid variants in the future.

Alexi Cohan | Reporter
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