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Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (Variant Delta) from Pet Hamsters to Humans and Onward Human Propagation of the Adapted Strain: A Case Study

19 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2022

See all articles by Hui-Ling Yen

Hui-Ling Yen

The University of Hong Kong

Thomas HC Sit

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Christopher J. Brackman

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Shirley SY Chuk

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Samuel M.S. Cheng

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health

Haogao Gu

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health

Lydia DJ Chang

The University of Hong Kong

Pavithra Krishnan

The University of Hong Kong

Daisy YM Ng

The University of Hong Kong

Gigi YZ Liu

The University of Hong Kong

Mani MY Hui

The University of Hong Kong

Sin Ying Ho

The University of Hong Kong

Karina WS Tam

The University of Hong Kong

Pierra YT Law

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Wen Su

The University of Hong Kong

Sin Fun Sia

The University of Hong Kong

Ka-Tim Choy

The University of Hong Kong

Sammi SY Cheuk

The University of Hong Kong

Sylvia PN Lau

The University of Hong Kong

Amy WY Tang

The University of Hong Kong

Joe CT Koo

The University of Hong Kong

Louise Yung

The University of Hong Kong

Gabriel Leung

University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health & Department of Community Medicine

J.S. Malik Peiris

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health

Leo LM Poon

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health

More...

Abstract

Background: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to other mammals, including pet animals, has been reported. However, with the exception of farmed mink, there is no previous documentation that these infected animals can infect humans, nor of further onward spread among humans. Following a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection of a pet store worker, animals in the store and the warehouse supplying it were tested for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Methods: Viral swabs and blood samples from pet animals were collected in a pet shop and the warehouse supplying it and tested by SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR and serological assays, respectively. SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR positive samples were studied by full genome sequencing analysis.

Findings: Over 50% of individually tested Syrian hamsters in the pet shop (8/16) and warehouse (7/12) were positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection in RT-PCR or serological tests. None of dwarf hamsters (n=77), rabbits (n=246), Guinea pigs (n=66), chinchilla (n=116) and mice (n=2) were confirmed positive in RT-PCR tests. SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes deduced from human and hamster cases in this incident all belong to Delta variant of concern (AY.127) that had not been circulating locally prior. These sequences are highly similar, but distinct. The viral genomes obtained from hamsters are phylogenetically related with some sequence heterogeneity and phylogenetic dating suggest infection in these hamsters occurred around 21 November 2021. Two separate transmission events to humans are documented, one leading to onward household spread.

Interpretation: Pet hamsters can be naturally infected in “real-life” settings. The virus can circulate within hamsters and lead to human infections. Both genetic and epidemiological results strongly suggest that there were two independent hamster-to-human transmission and that such events can lead to onward human transmission. Importation of infected hamsters was the most likely source of virus infection.

Funding Information: This work is supported by US National Institutes of Health (U01AI151810 and 75N93021C00016), RGC theme-based research schemes (T11-712/19-N and T11-705/21-N), InnoHK grants for C2I and D24H, and Health and Medical Research Fund (COVID190205).

Declaration of Interests: None of the authors had competing financial or non-financial interests.

Ethical Approval: Animal samples were collected for clinical diagnosis during a public health investigation led by the Hong Kong Government (AFCD). Specimens from humans were collected and tested by RT–qPCR as part of routine clinical care and the viruses genetically sequenced as part of the routine public health response (Institutional Review Board approval UW20-168).

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, Pandemic, Zoonosis, Reverse zoonosis, Animal-to-human transmission, Hamster

Suggested Citation

Yen, Hui-Ling and Sit, Thomas HC and Brackman, Christopher J. and Chuk, Shirley SY and Cheng, Samuel M.S. and Gu, Haogao and Chang, Lydia DJ and Krishnan, Pavithra and Ng, Daisy YM and Liu, Gigi YZ and Hui, Mani MY and Ho, Sin Ying and Tam, Karina WS and Law, Pierra YT and Su, Wen and Sia, Sin Fun and Choy, Ka-Tim and Cheuk, Sammi SY and Lau, Sylvia PN and Tang, Amy WY and Koo, Joe CT and Yung, Louise and Leung, Gabriel and Peiris, J.S. Malik and Poon, Leo LM, Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (Variant Delta) from Pet Hamsters to Humans and Onward Human Propagation of the Adapted Strain: A Case Study. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4017393 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4017393

Hui-Ling Yen

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Thomas HC Sit

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ( email )

Hong Kong

Christopher J. Brackman

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ( email )

Hong Kong

Shirley SY Chuk

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ( email )

Hong Kong

Samuel M.S. Cheng

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, HK
China

Haogao Gu

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health ( email )

Lydia DJ Chang

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Pavithra Krishnan

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Daisy YM Ng

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Gigi YZ Liu

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Mani MY Hui

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Sin Ying Ho

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Karina WS Tam

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Pierra YT Law

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ( email )

Hong Kong

Wen Su

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Sin Fun Sia

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Ka-Tim Choy

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Sammi SY Cheuk

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Sylvia PN Lau

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Amy WY Tang

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Joe CT Koo

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Louise Yung

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

Gabriel Leung

University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health & Department of Community Medicine ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

J.S. Malik Peiris

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health ( email )

Hong Kong, Pokfulam
China

Leo LM Poon (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - School of Public Health ( email )

Hong Kong, Pokfulam
China

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