Expert: Otters, others closely related to minks are more susceptible to virus that causes COVID-19

Asian Small Clawed otters at the Georgia Aquarium could be the first of its species to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19

The United States Department of Agriculture says the otters have tested presumptive positive for the virus. The samples were sent to the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories for confirmation. 

If confirmed, these otters would be the first of its species to be infected with the virus. 

According to the USDA, less than 200 animals in the US have reportedly been infected. This includes dogs, cats, gorillas, and minks. 

Worldwide, minks at over 400 farms, along with over 200 other animals have been infected with the virus. 

"Considering we're talking about millions and millions of cases of it worldwide in the human population, we're still looking at a relatively small aspect of it," said Dr. Douglas Kratt, the President of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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Georgia Aquarium officials said they believe an asymptomatic staff member passed the virus along to the otters.

"At this point, it appears that the mink population is more susceptible," Dr. Kratt said.  "Otters and mink are fairly closely associated with each other, so it didn't surprise me that otters could come down with the infection." Dr. Kratt said it's unlikely these animals will spread the infection to other animals or humans. 

"All of these cases that I've talked about, they were being taken care of by someone that had or had been exposed to COVID and brought it into the animals. The risk of it coming back to us has not been shown yet," he said. 

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Dr. Kratt says in most of these cases, the symptoms have been mild. The infected otters at the Georgia Aquarium are reported to have symptoms like runny noses, coughing, sneezing and mild lethargy. 

While getting the virus might be rare, Dr. Kratt suggests taking your animals to the vet if they start to have upper respiratory symptoms.

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