In this interview, Berhe Tekola, Director of FAO for Health and Animal Production, straightened out COVID-19 in the case of animals – be they pets or livestock, and ate food of animal origin. He also explained what the Organization has done to create better understanding and awareness, reduce the impact of COVID-19 on humans, animals and the environment.
Can animals spread COVID-19 to humans?
All known human cases of the COVID-19 pandemic are caused by direct or indirect contact between humans. There is still no evidence that animals (livestock and pets) or animal products can spread COVID-19 to humans. Investigations into the possible role of animals in the COVID-19 pandemic are currently underway.
Most viruses in the coronavirus family come from animals, with many from the bat population. However, the SARs-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease, is a new virus. To date, all known cases of COVID-19 are due to direct or indirect contact between humans.
How about interacting with animals? Does it pose a threat to people?
There is no evidence that domestic animals, livestock, fish, poultry or design animals can spread COVID-19 to humans.
This means, very simply, that it is safe to care for, nurture, care for and care for pets, game and livestock.
However, even though there are no specific COVID-19 precautions to be taken when interacting with animals, it is always best – as a general rule – to practice good hygiene and comply with biosecurity measures. This means washing hands with soap and water after touching animals and cleaning and disinfecting agricultural machinery / equipment.
We also strongly urge all people, countries, agencies, organizations and companies – to continue to treat animals with respect and to apply internationally accepted animal welfare standards. Misleading information about the role of animals in the COVID-19 pandemic continues to circulate. That is why it is very important for everyone to get good information, and continue to treat animals humanely. There is no justification for leaving, refusing, persecuting or killing animals because of fears of COVID-19.
Also, FAO does not recommend routine animal testing for this virus. However, as the situation continues to evolve, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that show symptoms and with known contact with people who have COVID-19 because they are too careful.
How about the opposite – are animals at risk from people infected with the virus?
Animals tend to be exposed to viruses from infected humans who show or no symptoms.
If you have no symptoms: make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after interacting with animals, and clean the pets properly.
If you have symptoms of respiratory disease or have been confirmed to be infected with a virus: limit contact with animals during your illness, just like you do with others; ask other family members to care for animals in your home, if possible; if you need to care for animals yourself, wear a mask and wash your hands before and after interacting with animals (handling animals and their food).
What about animal trade? Are there risks?
We have no evidence that shows that livestock or animals in general, including fish, as well as animal products, or agricultural products can spread COVID-19 – whether imported or not. And because this does not play any role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people, there is no reason to limit the trade or movement of animals and their products, unless people move with animals and there are restrictions on national travel for humans. .
Can I still eat food that comes from animals?
The main thing that everyone must remember is this: a person cannot be infected with COVID-19 from consuming, selling, buying or trading food, but must continue to practice good hygiene and food safety measures as usual.
There are no known cases of COVID-19 in humans that can be linked to any food, including meat and products from fish, wildlife, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Equally important – following strict environmental sanitation, personal hygiene and food safety measures to prevent cross-contamination are the keys to controlling foodborne illness, ensuring food safety, and, overall, reducing the likelihood of illness arising or re-emerging.
Are there general recommendations for people who handle animals to produce food or when preparing food that comes from animals – apart from COVID-19?
Here are some general recommendations on how to properly handle food from animal origin to make sure food safety:
● Cook meat and other animal products thoroughly. This includes frozen meat where the virus can last up to two years of storage at minus 20HiC.
● Avoid eating raw and undercooked foods of animal origin (meat, eggs, milk) to reduce exposure to all viruses and other foodborne pathogens.
● Before and after cooking, meat must always be stored in such a way that it cannot contaminate other food and cannot be contaminated again after cooking.
● Keep the environment clean and all equipment, tools and surfaces.
o Viruses of products that are contaminated once in contact with objects and surfaces can make it contagious for up to nine days.
o Most viruses, including coronaviruses, however, can be destroyed and removed using disinfectants and cleaners that are most commonly used in food processing.
● Personal hygiene is very important for food safety, and sick people must avoid food.
o Good hygiene practices are very important when handling fresh foods that may be consumed raw, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and ready-made foods that must be consumed without further heat treatment.
● Raw wild meat or raw dishes based on the blood of wild animals may not be consumed.
Proper slaughtering techniques are needed to minimize food safety risks.
● Wet markets, where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed pose a certain risk for transmission of pathogens for both workers and customers. To reduce the risk of transmission, this area must be cleaned regularly. Treatment is needed during the stages of stunning, defeathering, dehairing, removal and evisceration to minimize contamination.
● People may not handle, slaughter, dress, sell, prepare or consume any animal protein that comes from wild animals or cattle that are sick or die due to unknown causes. These practices place people at high risk of contracting a number of infections.
● Any unusual animal morbidity or mortality must be reported to the animal health authority.
Overall, we must ensure that good food safety and hygiene practices are followed.
Do people who consume bats, wild meat, and other wildlife at risk of contracting COVID-19?
If you eat wildlife, be sure to practice good food safety and hygiene (described above). Don’t eat meat or products from sick animals, and don’t eat raw wild meat or uncooked organs or tissues.
The point is safe legal wildlife consumption, IF safe food handling and food preparation practices are followed.
However, from a health perspective and because a number of zoonotic pathogens have appeared in bats, it is advisable to stop eating bats. Bats are very tolerant of viruses and this is why they carry a much higher proportion of zoonotic pathogens than other wildlife. Also, many bat species are threatened or endangered, making it forbidden to hunt and illegal to use as a food source.
What about the “wet market”? Do they pose a threat?
“Wet markets” – markets that sell fresh meat and fish and live animals – are considered as critical areas where pathogens occur between humans, wildlife and livestock. The proximity of live animals in these markets can allow the exchange of pathogens between wildlife and domestic species, which can then develop into new virus strains that can infect humans and livestock. However, this needs to be confirmed by scientific evidence.
To reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases, the FAO recommends: ensuring good hygiene and food safety measures, applying international animal welfare standards, and enforcing appropriate controls on wildlife trade in and throughout the country, as well as on selling wild meat on animal markets wild in cities.
What is the role of the veterinarian during this time?
It is important for veterinary services to convince all safe people to care for, maintain, care for and care for pets, animals and livestock, and also for veterinarians to maintain their activities even during locking (eg surveillance, vaccination, investigation of outbreaks in cases of disease events, basic animal care, border controls, etc.).
Veterinary authorities must also be kept informed and maintain close contact with the Ministry of Health and Forestry, Natural Resources or Wildlife, to ensure coherent and appropriate interventions and investigations, risk communication messages and risk management using the One Health approach. Effective biosecurity risk management and collaboration with inspection authorities must be maintained at the border.
Any SARS-CoV-2 virus detection in animals (including information about species, diagnostic tests, and relevant epidemiological information) must be reported to the World Animal Health Organization (OIE).
How does FAO support this area of work?
As part of its mandate, FAO coordinates the prevention, preparedness and detection of priority pathogens in animals, working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), using the One Health approach. This approach is a unifying force to protect human and animal health, reduce the threat of disease and ensure a safe food supply.
With regard to COVID-19, FAO has activated an event coordination group, which regularly brings together global, regional and country partners to ensure global coordination of activities and communication about diseases from the perspective of animal health and livelihood security.
We fund research and training throughout our network of animal laboratories, collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and use nuclear techniques to try to detect the possibility of viruses in animals and the environment. The repository of scientific evidence produced will help to manage the pandemic in the most effective way. Preventing disruption of aquatic and terrestrial animal production due to the human pandemic COVID-19 is the most important for FAO. To do this, the Organization has provided guidelines for farmers and animal health workers.
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