Experimental Transmission Studies of SARS-CoV-2 in Fruit Bats, Ferrets, Pigs and Chickens : [Preprint]
Background: A novel zoonotic SARS-related coronavirus emerged in China at the end of 2019. The novel SARS-CoV-2 became pandemic within weeks and the number of human infections and severe cases is increasing. The role of potential animal hosts is still understudied. Methods: We intranasally inoculated fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus; n=9), ferrets (n=9), pigs (n=9) and chickens (n=17) with 105 TCID50 of a SARS-CoV-2 isolate per animal. Animals were monitored clinically and for virus shedding. Direct contact animals (n=3) were included. Animals were humanely sacrificed for virological and immune-pathohistological analysis at different time points. Findings: Under these settings, pigs and chickens were not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. All swabs as well as organ samples and contact animals remained negative for viral RNA, and none of the animals seroconverted. Rousettus aegyptiacus fruit bats experienced a transient infection, with virus detectable by RT-qPCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH) in the nasal cavity, associated with rhinitis. Viral RNA was also identified in the trachea, lung and lung associated lymphatic tissue. One of three contact bats became infected. More efficient virus replication but no clinical signs were observed in ferrets with transmission to all direct contact animals. Prominent viral RNA loads of up to 104 viral genome copies/ml were detected in the upper respiratory tract. Mild rhinitis was associated with viral antigen detection in the respiratory and olfactory epithelium. Both fruit bats and ferrets developed SARS-CoV-2 reactive antibodies reaching neutralizing titers of up to 1:1024. Interpretation: Pigs and chickens could not be infected intranasally by SARS-CoV-2, whereas fruit bats showed characteristics of a reservoir host. Virus replication in ferrets resembled a subclinical human infection with efficient spread. These animals might serve as a useful model for further studies e.g. testing vaccines or antivirals.
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