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Four Chennai zoo lions infected with Delta variant of COVID-19, reveals genome sequencing

The Arignar Anna Zoological Park, which is locally known as Vandalur Zoo housed 15 lions, of which two (lion and lioness) passed away due to Covid-19.

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Four Chennai zoo lions infected with Delta variant of COVID-19, reveals genome sequencing
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According to the genome sequencing results of the lions which tested COVID-19 positive at the Chennai Zoo, four samples have been identified as 'Delta' variants of the virus. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), this variant showed higher transmissibility and reduced neutralization (by antibodies). 

This variant is first said to have been detected in India in late 2020. Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 (infection) have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Genome sequencing of 4 of the samples was done at NIHSAD, Bhopal. Analysis of the sequences shows that all the 4 sequences belong to Pangolin lineage B.1.617.2 and are Delta variants as per WHO nomenclature” said the Director ICAR-NIHSAD. It was added that on 11 May 2021, the WHO classified B.1.617.2 lineage as a variant of concern (VOC).

In two batches, 11 samples from the Chennai zoo lions were sent for testing. The ICAR-National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal was sent four samples on 24 May and seven samples on 29 May. Of the total 11 samples, nine tested positive and it was reported on June 3 and the lions have been under treatment since then.

The Arignar Anna Zoological Park, which is locally known as Vandalur Zoo housed 15 lions, of which two (lion and lioness) passed away due to Covid-19. According to the Deputy Director of the Zoo, eight out of the thirteen lions are Covid-19 positive at present.

"Temperature checks, eating patterns and food data of 53 different animals are being monitored on a regular basis. Tigers did show appetite issues, but they were fine after we replaced beef with chicken. But even these tigers' results returned negative. Rest all animals are okay," Naga Sathish Gidijala, IFS, Deputy Director, AAZP told Zee media.

While the mystery over how the captive big cats got infected with the daly virus remains unsolved, experts and vets advising the Zoo suspect human-animal (man to single lion) transmission followed by animal-animal (lion to multiple lions) transmission. Based on a discussion between experts, the transmission from man-animal seems to have happened, despite animal keepers and feeders having worn PPE suits and followed precautions.

On the possibility of animal-human transmission, they felt that it could not be ruled out. Citing existing information, they said that only known cases of animal-man transmission are said to be from bats. Even in the case of pet dogs getting infected, the team feels that dogs got infected from humans and not vice versa. They feel that lion-lion transmission is likely, whereas there are no known cases of dog-dog transmission.

AAZP authorities have been providing treatment to the animals and following protocols in consultation with experts from Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS), Veterinarians of Hyderabad Zoo and Bronx Zoo.

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