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COVID-19: Female tiger tests positive for coronavirus in US’ zoo

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New York:  Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus after developing a dry cough, in what is believed to be the first known case of an animal infected with COVID-19 in the US, raising new questions about human-to-animal transmission of the deadly virus.

The tigress, along with six other big cats, is thought to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo, said in a statement on Sunday.

Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions had developed a dry cough and decrease in appetite, it said, adding that all the cats are expected to recover.

“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” the CNN quoted the zoo as saying.

“It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries,” it said.

The test result has stunned zoo officials.

“I couldn’t believe it,” zoo director Jim Breheny said.

The coronavirus, first detected in humans in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, is believed to have spread from animals to humans, and a handful of animals, including two dogs, have tested positive in Hong Kong.

The pandemic has been driven by human-to-human transmission, but the infection of Nadia raises new questions about human-to-animal transmission.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), no other animals at the zoo are showing symptoms.

The animals were infected by a zoo employee who was “asymptomatically infected with the virus” while caring for them, according to the zoo. The Bronx Zoo has been closed to the public since March 16.

Anyone sick with the coronavirus is being advised to minimise contact with animals, including pets, until more information is known about the virus, the USDA said.

“There is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people,” except for the initial outbreak at a food market in Wuhan, China. In addition, there is “no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats,” the CBS News quoted USDA as saying.

The USDA said “this is the first case of its kind” and “further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”

The World Organisation for Animal Health says studies are under way to understand the issue more and urges anyone who has become sick to limit contact with pets.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases across the world and 69,479 people have died so far.

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