A study of the Complexity Science Hub shows data gap for COVID-19 in animals © Pixabay

15.11.2023

News

Data gap in SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals

COVID-19 in animals? The question got lost in the shuffle during the ongoing global pandemic. Not even half of the known cases were officially reported.

Research on SARS-CoV-2 has primarily focused on its implications for humans, despite the virus most likely being a zoonosis, a disease transmitted from animals to humans. Overall, not even half of the known SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals were officially reported, and the value is significantly lower for fatalities.

A recent study by the Complexity Science Hub (CSH) and Vetmeduni Vienna evidences this data gap in animal health data, particularly concerning as policies rely on official datasets.

AT LEAST TWO-THIRDS OF DEATHS UNREPORTED

This study aimed to bridge the data gap in the number of SARS-CoV-2 cases and associated deaths in animals. Researchers compared official figures reported by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) through the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) with data from two other sources: ProMED-Mail and scientific publications.

BRIDGING THE GAP

“At least 52.8% of SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals and 65.8% of deaths between February 2020 and August 2022 were not reported to WAHIS,” explains study lead author Amélie Desvars-Larrive, a researcher at CSH and Vetmeduni.

Stacked chart of the estimated cumulated number of SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals, study by Complexity Science Hub and Vetmeduni
Stacked chart of the estimated cumulated number of SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals © Complexity Science Hub and Vetmeduni

“This data gap in the official reporting of cases and deaths is a significant challenge, particularly as policymakers rely on official data. Data biases and skewed data can lead to suboptimal policymaking and inefficient allocation of resources,” emphasizes Desvars-Larrive.

Moreover, the researchers noted a “geographic gap.” While certain countries, mainly in the Global North, routinely share data on SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals, this is less common in the Global South, where resource availability may be a major barrier to effective data collection and dissemination.

35 ANIMAL SPECIES

These insights were based on combining information from three different sources, leading the research team to compile a comprehensive list of 35 animal species susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions during the first 2.5 years of the pandemic. 

“This represents a significant advancement over WOAH and FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) numbers. Furthermore, we identified species underreported to WAHIS, whereas dogs and cats have received the most attention in research studies,” adds Desvars-Larrive.

Bubble chart showing the number of cases per animal species © Complexity Science Hub and Vetmeduni
Bubble chart showing the number of cases per animal species © Complexity Science Hub and Vetmeduni

ONE HEALTH

“As around 75% of emerging human diseases are of animal origin, and we should be prepared in the event of the next pandemic, this data gap is an important issue that needs to be addressed now,” says Desvars-Larrive.

This analysis provides valuable insights into the patterns of reporting animal infections with SARS-CoV-2, emphasizing the need to improve data exchange on SARS-CoV-2 events in animals. This is crucial for effective One Health monitoring, prevention, and control of emerging zoonotic diseases.

FAIR DATA IS PARAMOUNT

Ideally, this improvement should occur through equitable sharing of data and metadata based on the FAIR principles – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable. According to researchers, timely, high-quality, and accurate data on cases in both humans and animals are essential for combating zoonotic pandemic threats. “As decisions and public health policies increasingly rely on data, it’s high time to close these data gaps,” urges Desvars-Larrive to policymakers.

Related

08.11.2023
A. Nerpel, A. Käsbohrer, C. Walzer, A. Desvars-Larrive
One Health

Get intuitive insights into specific aspects of SARS-CoV-2 events in animals at-a-glance.

Welche Auswirkungen hat Covid-19 auf Tiere?
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