Ferrets could be key in race to find vaccine and treatments for coronavirus

Ferrets could prove to be the ideal animal model for treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, researchers say.

Scientists looking for animal models for Covid-19 infections to support the urgent development of drugs found that it replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks but efficiently in ferrets and cats.​

Jianzhong Shi of State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology, Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and colleagues, evaluated the susceptibility of different model laboratory animals to the coronavirus.

The researchers also looked at companion and domestic animals while performing their experiments in biosafety level 4 facilities in accordance with protocols for animal welfare.

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Viral samples were delivered to the animals through the nose or via the trachea (for ferrets), and this allowed the scientists to measure the extent of replication in various tissue sites.

They discovered that Covid-19 replicated poorly in all the animals but the ferrets and cats. In ferrets and older cats the virus formed in the upper respiratory tract and not the lung.

In the study published in the Science journal, the authors write: “We found that SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks, but ferrets and cats are permissive to infection. ​

“We found experimentally that cats are susceptible to airborne infection.

“Our study provides important insights into the animal models for SARS-CoV-2 and animal management for Covid-19 control.”

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When it came to studies or airborne transmission, the researchers discovered Covid-19 transmitted well with young cats, but poorly with ferrets.

The researches added: “The fact that SARS-CoV-2 replicates efficiently in the upper respiratory tract of ferrets makes them a candidate animal model for evaluating antiviral drugs or vaccine candidates against Covid-19.”


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