Which Animals Catch COVID? This Database Has Dozens of Species and Counting

Which Animals Catch COVID? This Database Has Dozens of Species and Counting

Tracking how SARS-CoV-2 spreads among animals could help us prepare for the next pandemic

Credit: Brown Bird Design

The virus that causes COVID-19 is a prolific sack of genes that targets not just humans but nonhuman animals as well. And just as humans and animals can infect one another, animals can also infect other animals, says Amelie Desvars-Larrive, an epidemiologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. Scientists know a lot about the spread of COVID in humans, but not much about how it spreads among animals.

To make it easier to study the connections among humans, animals and the virus, Desvars-Larrive and a team of researchers gathered scattered reports of COVID-infected mammals from all over the world to create a public database. Understanding how the virus spreads between nonhuman animals and between humans can help us manage the current pandemic and prepare for the next.

Graphic shows circles scaled by the number of COVID cases detected in each of 33 species, representing 16 taxonomic families.
Credit: Brown Bird Design (animals) and Amanda Montanez (data visualization); Source: SARS-ANI Database (as of September 6, 2022), University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, and Complexity Science Hub Vienna

” We can’t keep focusing on humans, or have an anthropocentric view of this pandemic,” Desvars Larrive states.

COVID is highly contagious among mammal species. Infections have been rampant in captive mink and fur farmers have had their entire stock killed to stop it. The virus is particularly dangerous to deer. It seems to be a common virus in many cat species, large and small. Barbara Han, a Millbrook, N.Y.-based disease ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, believes that having all the information in one place, rather than being split among different agencies and organizations, will make it easier for her team predict the virus’s behavior.

The database is growing as more animals get tested and reports are shared. Scientists hope it will allow them to track animal-toanimal COVID infections and transmission between animals, humans and other animals. Han believes that the database will allow scientists to better understand the effects of the COVID-causing SARS-2 virus on mammal communities and whole ecosystems.

” People are fascinated by the fact that this pathogen has now infected so many animals, and what it might mean to us,” Han states. “If we don’t have the right information about which animals have it, we won’t be able to get those answers .”


This article was originally published with the title “COVID Relay” in Scientific American 327, 5, 22 (November 2022)

doi: 10. 1038/scientificamerican1122-22


    Megha Satyanarayana is chief opinion editor of Scientific American. Follow her on Twitter @meghas

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