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Gorillas at Zoo Atlanta have COVID

Wednesday, September 15th 2021, 3:23 pm - The gorillas will be vaccinated against COVID with a veterinary vaccine.

At least 18 of the 20 gorillas at Zoo Atlanta have tested positive for COVID-19. Employees noticed the first signs of the outbreak last week, the Associated Press (AP) reports via the CBC. Several gorillas were coughing, suffering from runny noses, and had changed eating habits.

The zoo is using monoclonal antibodies to treat the gorillas that are at risk of developing COVID-related complications. At least four have tested positive for the delta variant.

It's believed an asymptomatic, fully vaccinated employee who was masked and gloved while interacting with the gorillas passed the virus on.

"According to our guidelines for animal care staff, if [employees] have the slightest symptoms of a cold, they are to stay home," Dr. Sam Rivera, the zoo's senior director of animal health, told AP.

"It so happens that the animal care team member, the following day ... developed signs that she suspected might be consistent with COVID and was tested and was positive."

GORILLA GIF Graphic created by Cheryl Santa Maria. Photo sources: Thurundir/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 and kpnb/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Once a gorilla got sick, officials said it was impossible to keep the others isolated due to the set-up of their enclosure.

Officials say there's no evidence the gorillas can pass the virus back to humans - but even if there were, visitors are too far away from the gorillas to get infected.

Sam Rivera, the zoo's senior director, said the gorillas will be vaccinated against COVID-19 with a veterinary vaccine.

This isn't the first time gorillas have tested positive for the virus: In January, a group of eight contracted the disease at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

All of them recovered.

ZOONOTIC SPILLOVER

Experts say COVID-19 is an example of a zoonotic spillover event, which occurs when a virus overcomes several roadblocks and becomes feasible in another species. COVID-19 is presumed to have transferred from bats to humans.

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