Reducing the Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Spreading between People and Wildlife
- These recommendations may make it less likely for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to spread between people and wildlife to protect human health, animal health, and minimize adverse public health and conservation outcomes.
- Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in free-living wildlife in the United States, or that wildlife might be a source of infection for people in the United States.
- We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to susceptible animal species in some situations, especially after close contact with a person with COVID-19. For this reason, the virus may threaten the health and welfare of wildlife and could negatively impact conservation efforts.
- Anyone who comes into close proximity or contact with wildlife is encouraged to consider the information below to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2 between people and wildlife.
- Considerations for Members of the Public
- Considerations for Hunters
- Hierarchy of Controls to Reduce the Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Spreading between People and Wildlife
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is circulating in free-living wildlife in the United States, or that wildlife might be a source of infection for people in the United States.
If wildlife were to become infected with the virus, we don’t know whether the infection could then spread among wildlife or if it could spread to other animals, including pets. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including wildlife, could be affected by COVID-19. Because wildlife can carry other diseases, even without looking sick, it is always important to enjoy wildlife from a distance.
To prevent getting sick from wildlife in the United States:
- Keep your family, including pets, a safe distance away from wildlife.
- Do not feed wildlife or touch wildlife droppings.
- Always wash your hands and supervise children washing their hands after working or playing outside.
- Leave orphaned animals alone. Often, the parents are close by and will return for their young.
- Consult your state wildlife agency’s guidance if you are preparing or consuming legally harvested game meat.
- Do not approach or touch a sick or dead animal – contact your state wildlife agencyexternal icon
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is spreading in free-living wildlife in the United States, or that wildlife might be a source of infection for people. However, some wild animals are known to be susceptible to infection, and some non-native wildlife, including big cats and non-human primates, have become infected in captive settings such as zoos (see COVID-19 and Animals for more information).
There is no evidence that you can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating food, including wild hunted game meat in the United States. However, hunters can get infected with many diseases when processing or eating game. Hunters should always practice good hygiene when processing animals by following these food safety recommendations:
- Do not allow contact between wildlife and domestic animals, including pets and hunting dogs.
- Do not harvest animals that appear sick or are found dead.
- Keep game meat clean and cool the meat down as soon as possible after harvesting the animal.
- Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not eat the brains of wildlife.
- When handling and cleaning game:
- Wear rubber or disposable gloves.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke.
- When finished handling and cleaning game:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game meat with soap and water and then disinfect them.
- While these recommendations apply to general food safety practices, if you are concerned about COVID-19, you may use a product on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of disinfectants for use against the COVID-19 virusexternal icon.
- Cook all game meat thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher).
- Check with your state wildlife agency regarding any testing requirements for other diseases and for any specific instructions regarding preparing, transporting, and consuming game meat.
The Hierarchy of Controls is a standard tool applied in occupational safety and health practices to minimize exposure to hazards by implementing effective control solutions. The Hierarchy of Controls approach is used in subsequent sections to apply the general Hierarchy of Controls principles to the context of minimizing disease spread between people and wildlife.
Implementing controls near the top of the hierarchy leads to an inherently safer approach than implementing only controls near the bottom. Levels of control are not mutually exclusive and can be combined as needed.
State, federal, tribal, and territorial domestic animal, wildlife, and public health agencies should continue to evaluate the latest science on wildlife health concerns related to SARS-CoV-2 and engage with national and international experts to assess the chances of SARS-CoV-2 spreading between wildlife and people.
State, federal, tribal, and territorial wildlife agencies may consider additional restrictions or other measures to reduce the possibility that:
- Susceptible wildlife are exposed to SARS-CoV-2 by people who are infected;
- Infected wildlife spread SARS-CoV-2;
- Infected wildlife spread SARS-CoV-2 back to people in the future.
In studying and trying to prevent COVID-19, agencies may consider additional factors like ongoing local human community spread, biosecurity capabilities of various wildlife research and management activities, and agency legal authorities. As applicable, a Hierarchy of Controls approach can be applied to decision-making around risk mitigation, described above.
Considerations for Agencies or Programs Conducting Wildlife Research, Wildlife Management, and Wildlife Control Activities
Activities that involve being close to or directly handling wildlife can increase the chances that people with COVID-19 could spread the virus to people or animals. Wildlife agencies should consider how wildlife research, management, and control activities could impact both human and animal health. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) Fish and Wildlife Health Committeepdf iconexternal icon recommends that wildlife scientists, biologists, hunters, trappers, and wildlife control operators comply with existing biosafety and animal handling protocols, observe proper hygiene and disinfection practices, and use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when in direct contact with wildlife. Risk mitigation actions should be appropriate for the degree of risk associated with particular wildlife research, management, or control activities, with the understanding that more frequent and prolonged contact between people and animals represents a greater risk of exposure.
There are many ways to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other zoonotic diseases between people and wildlife when conducting management, research, or control activities. However, the most effective way to prevent transmission between people and animals is to avoid direct contact with wildlife. This could involve suspending fieldwork or other activities that require direct contact with wildlife. Administrative controls and the use of PPE can minimize the risks of transmission, but they can be more prone to failure than the elimination, substitution, and engineering controls depicted in the diagram above and described below. In situations where contact cannot be avoided, or where the risk of transmission is outweighed by the potential benefits of handling wildlife, engineering controls, administrative controls and PPE can help reduce the possibility of disease transmission. Details about each type of control are provided below.
Wildlife Research and Management/Control Activities: Hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread between people and wildlife
|PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)||
Wildlife rehabilitation is generally regulated at the state and federal level. In states that allow wildlife rehabilitation, most require wildlife rehabilitators follow regulatory requirements and permit conditions. These conditions can include using species-specific housing standards, working with veterinary supervision, and following proper husbandry and biosecurity practices. Ideally, wildlife rehabilitation facilities should be able to ensure general biosecurity and disinfection measures are met for a wide variety of disease-causing agents.
While wildlife rehabilitators should always follow permit conditions, implement general biosecurity measures in their facilities, and follow all regulations in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that they follow additional precautionary measures to reduce the possibility that mammals in their care could be exposed to the virus. These additional precautions are a key component in the success of the risk mitigation actions provided below. It is important to recognize that general stress in captured wildlife, prolonged interaction with humans during captivity, and the unknown health status of the public and other transporters bringing rescued wildlife to rehabilitation facilities may increase the susceptibility of an animal to SARS-CoV-2 exposure and infection.
If rehabilitation is permitted, rehabilitators should maintain wildlife known or presumed to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection only in wildlife rehabilitation facilities where protocols to avoid viral transmission can be followed at all times. If these conditions cannot be met, then it may be appropriate to use a wildlife rehabilitator network (with permission of the wildlife agency) to either transfer the animal or refer the public to another nearby wildlife rehabilitation facility that can meet these protocols.
Developing Risk Mitigation Measures
State, federal, tribal, and territorial wildlife agencies and their wildlife rehabilitators should work together to develop risk-based criteria for which species can and cannot be accepted for wildlife rehabilitation and for approving wildlife species for release. The Hierarchy of Controls approach, introduced above, would be advantageous to mitigate risk.
The most effective way to eliminate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to wildlife in wildlife rehabilitation facilities is to suspend or prohibit rehabilitation. However, there can be situations where the benefits of wildlife rehabilitation, when performed in accordance with established policies and guidelines, may outweigh the potential risks of spreading the virus. In those cases, engineering, administrative, and PPE controls can be implemented to mitigate risk.
In addition to implementing a Hierarchy of Controls approach to risk mitigation during the wildlife rehabilitation period, wildlife agencies working with their rehabilitators should develop criteria for release of any known or presumed susceptible wildlife. This should determine the animal’s basic fitness for independent survival in its native habitat, any risk of exposure to the virus, and if pre-release testing of the animal and/or its caretakers is warranted, practical, and/or feasible. Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not recommended. The decision to test an animal, including companion animals, livestock, and wild or zoo animals, should be made collaboratively using a One Health approach between local, state, and/or federal public health and animal health officials.
As additional information on the susceptibility and transmissibility of the virus in different wildlife species becomes available, there may be certain situations in which testing should be considered, in coordination with appropriate wildlife health officials and veterinary diagnostic laboratories (see CDC, OIEpdf iconexternal icon, and IUCNexternal icon guidance).
Wildlife Rehabilitation Activities: Hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread between people and wildlife
|PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)||
- CDC: COVID-19 and Animals
- CDC: Evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 Testing in Animals
- USGS: Field Manual of Wildlife Diseasesexternal icon
- USGS: Assessing the Risks Posed by SARS-CoV-2 in and via North American Bats—Decision Framing and Rapid Risk Assessmentpdf iconexternal icon
Professional Organization Resources
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Disaster Preparedness Resourcesexternal icon
- Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies: COVID-19 and North American Species of Mustelidae, Felidae, and Canidaepdf iconexternal icon
- IUCN: Guidelines for Working with Free-Ranging Wild Mammals in the Era of the COVID-19 Pandemicexternal icon
- IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group: recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats in bat rescue and rehabilitation centerspdf iconexternal icon
- IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group: Recommended Strategy for Researchers to Reduce the Risk of Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from Humans to Batspdf iconexternal icon
- The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians: Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnelpdf iconexternal icon
- National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association: COVID-19external icon
- Wildlife Disease Association: COVID-19 Informationexternal icon
- Wildlife Health Australia: Bat Health Focus Groupexternal icon
- Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Preparedness, Response, and Recovery (ZAHP) Fusion Center: Considerations for the management of non-domestic species in human care during COVID-19external icon