March 31, 2021
Monitoring Animal Health and COVID-19
Vancouver, BC — There is a critical need to monitor for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. The virus replicates, with the potential for mutation, not only within the human population, but also within some animal populations that encounter humans. Farmed mink is of particular interest since they are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and, in Europe, have also been shown to transmit the virus back to humans.
The current pandemic and the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to and from mink has created a specific opportunity to pilot a One Health project, overcoming both scientific and collaborative challenges to address current and future threats. The intersection of human, animal, and environmental health, the One Health approach, is an important area of effort and attention.
To address this urgent need, Genome British Columbia (Genome BC) is investing in a new project through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding Initiative. One Health Genomics: COVID-19 Adaptation investigation in mink (and spillover to other animals) COVID-19 AIM is being led by Dr. Natalie Prystajecky who heads up the Environmental Microbiology program at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Public Health Laboratory. The project will develop novel genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 within mink as a critical dimension of managing this pandemic and building preparedness for the emergence of future viruses.
“Despite the zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2, there has been relatively little investment in “One Health” surveillance in animal hosts such as mink,” says Dr. Prystajecky, who is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. “It is critical that we build the tools and collaborations to address One Health issues, particularly as global warming and urbanization continue to be growing issues.”
The One Health approach is inherently difficult not only due to logistical reasons such as sampling and transport, but also institutional challenges. This project will focus on the development and refinement of shared diagnostic protocols for the detection of COVID-19 in animal reservoirs. These protocols will facilitate the surveillance of emerging infectious diseases in the future and a prepared collective approach to dealing with them.
“This project is an expansion of the ongoing collaboration between the Animal Health Centre and the BC Centre for Disease Control, BC’s provincial animal and human diagnostic laboratories,” says Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, Leader for Veterinary Science and Diagnostics, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, and a co-Investigator on the project. “We are building toward a truly integrated model for detecting and monitoring emerging infectious diseases – a model that will enable the Province to be better prepared to deal with infectious disease threats, both now and in the future. This will undoubtedly result in efficiencies and innovations that will allow our team to better serve the people of British Columbia.”
The project team is an intergovernmental One Health unit including key leaders from BC’s Ministry of Health (through the BCCDC) and BC’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. Together the group can respond to the threat of viral transmission between human and mink, as well as building the necessary capacity, knowledge, and interagency collaboration for effective response in future zoonotic One Health threats.
“This work is hugely important for informing current, and future, monitoring and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 in mink and potentially other animals,” says Dr. Federica Di Palma, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome British Columbia. “This investment supports our key partners and is a significant step in moving the One Health approach forward.”
Information from this project will also be shared with federal partners at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Contact: Jennifer Boon, Communications Manager, Public and Media Relations