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Weekly News Roundup 4/10 to 4/16

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Research delayed, rodent populations reduced during pandemic

Universities delayed new studies this spring to reduce contact among people, including researchers and animal caregivers. Those delays often involved reducing breeding of research animals and sometimes depopulating mice. Even after campuses reopen, rebuilding many of these populations could take months. Laura J. Knoll, PhD, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, said university officials strongly encouraged that investigators reduce their populations of easily replaceable animals because the university would be short staffed. She had about 700 mice prior to the pandemic, and she estimated two-thirds were euthanized. “They are working with limited animal-care staff,” Knoll said, and added that reducing the human health risk was the right decision, rather than maintaining large populations of mice. . . . more

Canadian scientist says stray dogs may have bred coronavirus. But only maybe

If you want to stir people up even more during a pandemic, tell dog lovers that Fido and Fluffy may have transmitted the virus to humans. This is purely a “speculative” possibility, Xuhua Xia, PhD, a professor of biology at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada, says in his paper, which was published online this week. But the internet, including some news media, glossed over the “maybe.” Websites have picked it up Xia’s paper and claim that he is announcing that dogs bred this dangerous disease, period. Xia’s paper examines how the COVID-19 virus may have adapted from wildlife (likely bats) to humans, and says stray dogs may have harbored the virus in their intestines, where it evolved into a form that is able to infect humans. . . . more

Mice, hamsters, ferrets, or monkeys. Which lab animals can help defeat the new coronavirus?

Beloved as pets, Syrian hamsters are winning another kind of attention from scientists trying to understand and defeat COVID-19. Fifteen years ago, scientists found the hamsters could readily be infected with the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Their symptoms were subtle, so the animals didn’t get much traction as a model for the disease. But with COVID-19, caused by a related virus, SARS-CoV-2, the model’s prospects appear brighter. The hamster team is but one of dozens of groups that are racing to develop animal models that can help find effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and clarify precisely how SARS-CoV-2 causes disease. . . . more

Don’t get your pet groomed, groomers say

Pets can be welcome stress relievers in these trying times. Pet adoptions are soaring nationally as people look for the company of furry friends in the absence of human ones. And because there’s no evidence that pets can spread coronavirus to people, some pet owners might think that anything they do with their dogs and cats is safe, including getting them groomed. But getting a pet groomed inevitably brings people closer together, thus raising the risk of coronavirus transmission for both the pet owner and the groomer. Despite nationwide lockdowns, people are having their pets groomed, and pet groomers wish they would stop. . . . more

CSU veterinarians on front lines in the hunt for COVID-19 vaccine

A fortuitous confluence of vaccine research at Colorado State University (CSU) could result in a vaccine for the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. The key is a genetically modified form of Lactobacillus acidophilus that holds promise in preventing the virus from attaching itself to cells in the mucous membrane. CSU researchers have been studying vaccine platforms for more than a decade, reports Gregg Dean, DVM, PhD, DACVP, professor and head of CSU’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology. That work initially began with HIV-related vaccine studies, but was found to be useful for other viruses as well. “One that really stuck out was human rotavirus,” Dean said. “Globally, [rotavirus] causes a lot of morbidity and mortality and we felt we had a real opportunity to do something meaningful.” . . . more