Three different coronavirus variants were discovered in New York City’s rat population, according to a new study.
A release from EurekAlert on Thursday states that rats were found to be infected with the alpha, delta and omicron COVID-19 variants.
Henry Wan, the principal investigator for the study and the director of the Center for Influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Missouri, said in the statement that the finds demonstrate why additional monitoring of COVID-19 in rat populations is necessary to keep track of a possible secondary spreading of the virus from animals to humans.
“Overall, our work in this space shows that animals can play a role in pandemics that impact humans, and it’s important that we continue to increase our understanding so we can protect both human and animal health,” Wan said.
The release states New York City has about 8 million rats, which also widespread across other urban areas in the United States. It notes that two previous studies indicated that rats had been exposed to the virus, but which variants they interacted with had been unknown.
Tom DeLiberto, the SARS-CoV-2 coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services and a coauthor of the study, said the USDA and APHIS sampled rats in New York in fall 2021 to look for evidence of infections. He said they engaged in two efforts to trap the rats in September and November in and near local wastewater systems.
The release states researchers processed samples from 79 rats, 13 of which tested positive for the virus.
“SARS-CoV-2 virus presents a typical one-health challenge which requires collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approaches to fully understand such challenges,” Wan said.
The results come as much of the world has returned to normal operations. The U.S. is set to end the COVID-19 public health emergency in May.