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Sick with COVID-19? Stay away from animals if possible

There’s not much yet known about transfer to animals, but pigs are at largest risk

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Farmers with livestock should take some of the same precautions that they are taking with people in order to make sure they don’t transmit the coronavirus COVID-19 to their animals.

Prof. Scott Weese, who works in infectious diseases at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, says it’s not yet known which animals could be infected by the virus, if any.

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As a result, he says stay out of barns and avoid animals if you develop a COVID-19 infection.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 infection is moving quickly around the world, so quickly, that there’s not a lot yet known about it.

“Pigs are the main concern,” said Weese in an interview with Farmtario, but until there’s more information anyone with the disease should be cautious around animals.

The genetic makeup of the virus and how it attached to cells could make it more likely to infect pigs compared to other animals, says Weese.

“If you are sick, stay away from everything, from people from animals. If you do go into the barn, do not go close to your pigs. I know it’s not easy for everyone.”

It’s important to communicate with employees about the risk to the animals and encourage them to not come to work if they are ill.

Weese says if it’s possible, keep employees who have been exposed to someone else with COVID-19 home too.

“The key is really the sick people, but if you can, keep the exposed people out too.”

Canadian society has moved into a social distancing phase – reduce the number of people to whom you are exposed in daily life. And keep physically away from them.

That applies to barns too. Stay away from the animals unless it’s necessary. The virus is spread by droplets from the mouth and nose, so covering up coughs and cleaning hands are a good practice in barns as well as in homes.

If you are ill and have to be in the barn, stay away from the animals if possible. If a piece of equipment needs to be fixed, keep the animals away until it’s done.

A lot of farmers can’t easily replace themselves, but they can take steps to reduce contact with animals, says Weese.

“The risk for animals is very low, the risk of transmission is very low, but if you can avoid exposing them to the virus, it would be better.”

Weese, who is an expert in zoonotic infections – those which transfer between humans and animals is part of a human and animal infectious diseases group that was recently awarded federal government funding to investigate the global management of COVID-19 using the “One Health” approach in which human and animal health experts collaborate to manage infectious disease.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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