First for Africa: UP study shows COVID can be transmitted from humans to animals

Medical Virologist, Professor Marietjie Venter, said in June, veterinarians tested samples from lions experiencing breathing difficulties.

In June, veterinarians tested samples from lions experiencing breathing difficulties and found that they had coronavirus. Picture: Supplied.

CAPE TOWN - The coronavirus can be transmitted from humans to animals.

That's been confirmed by a University of Pretoria research into how the Delta variant was transmitted from humans to animals at a private zoo in Johannesburg.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal of virology titled Viruses, is a first for the African continent.

Medical Virologist, Professor Marietjie Venter, said in June, veterinarians tested samples from lions experiencing breathing difficulties.

"We did some real-time PCR tests on them and we identified COVID. So, we sequenced it and it was the time the Delta variant was circulating," Venter said.

Two pumas and three lions, in three different cages, presented with a respiratory illness similar to COVID-19 in humans.

Venter said people who had exposure to the lions were tested.

"The person we identified was actually the zookeeper who was responsible for looking after the lions. So, he probably then transmitted it to them or there was another person that we didn't identify that initially did the first transmission and then he [zookeeper] also got it from that person."

Experts said if the virus establishes itself in other animals, mutated variants could be transmitted back to humans.