It has been reported that eight Asiatic lions at the Hyderabad Zoo in India have been infected with Covid-19. The number may be higher and it is thought that the transmission to lions at this zoo is due to the massive surge in infections among humans in India, which we have all heard about. The cats have displayed mild Covid-19 symptoms. The zoo has been closed to the public and there is no evidence that lions can transmit the virus to people. It is likely that they contracted the virus from zookeepers, as has happened in the past.
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In response to this news, big cats at the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, India, are being fed with food that has been dipped in water at 65°C for about 10 minutes. I believe that this method of killing the virus comes from procedures that were introduced when dealing with the SARS virus which is a close relative of Covid-19. The SARS virus is inactivated at temperatures of 56-65°C (132.8-149°F).
However, the author of a Los Angeles Times article on the subject of cooking food to kill the coronavirus concludes that you cannot acquire Covid-19 from food. The author (GENEVIEVE KO) says that viruses do not multiply on food unlike bacteria and that the Covid-19 virus must make its way to the host’s lungs as it is a respiratory system disease. She appears to have deduced that it is highly unlikely that the virus on food can travel from the mouth to the larynx and into the lungs.
Once the food is ingested and inside the stomach, the virus, if it is on food, will most likely be destroyed by stomach acid. Should the virus survive the acids there is no pathway to carry it to the lungs and respiratory system in general.
Therefore, I personally conclude, that the zookeepers at the above-mentioned zoo are dipping big cats’ food in scalding water in an abundance of caution. I hope that they are showing the same levels of caution towards the interactions between zookeepers and the cats. I would hope that all zookeepers are tested for Covid-19. I would also hope that they are all vaccinated against the disease if that is practicable. I realise that it might not be because in India they have a vaccination programme problem and I believe a supply problem. This is despite the fact that India is the world’s biggest manufacturer of vaccines, as I understand it.
We should not forget, at this juncture, all the domestic cats and indeed feral cats living in India of which there are many. All of them are susceptible to contracting the virus through direct transmission from people, particularly their owners. Many words have been written about the possibility of domestic cats contracting Covid-19 from people in the same way that people contracted it from people. The advice for people who have the disease is to isolate themselves from their companion animals and vice versa in order to protect the animals. I would very much doubt that this advice is being carried out.
That is why there is concern that a reservoir for the disease may build up in animals and companion animals specifically which may lead to the re-emergence of the disease in the future once it has been suppressed through vaccinations.
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