Deer hamsters may carry coronavirus in the wild

A group of American molecular biologists led by an associate professor at the University of Colorado (USA) Tony Schonts found that deer hamsters, widespread North American rodents, can become infected with a new type of coronavirus and transmit it. The preliminary results of the study were published by the electronic library bioRxiv.

One of the biggest fears of epidemiologists is that the new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will have another reservoir among animals that live outside Asia. We have found that deer hamsters can play such a role in North America, among which the virus can spread and develop steadily.

American researchers tested whether the deer hamsters Peromyscus maniculatus are capable of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Nine young deer hamsters were nasally instilled with a solution containing the virus. Viral RNA was detected up to 21 days in swabs from the oral cavity of animals and up to 14 days in the lungs. The virus has also been found in animal brains. The authors suggest that he entered there through the trigeminal nerve. There were no obvious symptoms of the disease and not a single hamster died from the infection.

Subsequent observations showed that infected individuals transmitted the virus to all relatives in the cell in just two days. Those, in turn, infected another batch of rodents, which the researchers later placed in an enclosure with sick hamsters. At the same time, antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 appeared in animals only two weeks after infection.

All of this data suggests that deer hamsters, and possibly other species of the same genus, can be secondary reservoir hosts and cause periodic outbreaks of COVID-19 in North America, which means that the virus can steadily spread among these animals, as well as evolve.

Other rodents that may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 need to be investigated. It is known, for example, that European bank voles and field voles are infected with coronaviruses.