Scientists have been using a number of lab animals in their attempt to defeat COVID-19. Mice, ferrets and monkeys have been considered, but the one species that seems to have a greater success rate is the hamster. Used in the past with severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], hamsters didn't get much traction as a model for the disease. However, with COVID-19, it appears the hamster might be right 'sacrificial lamb' to do the trick.
University of Hong Kong Study
When physician-scientist Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and his research team infected eight hamsters, the animals lost weight, became lethargic, developed ruffled fur, a hunched posture, and rapid breathing.
These findings "closely resemble the manifestation of upper and lower respiratory tract infection in humans," Chan noted in a research paper filed with the Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Chan's team is but one of a number of studies underway to develop animal models that can help find effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to clarify precisely how SARS-CoV-2 causes disease. These teams are often stymied because of the pandemic’s 'shelter-in-place' restrictions. Nonetheless, they are collaborating remotely intensively.
Each Thursday, the World Health Organization arranges a video conference of nearly 100 scientists, regulators, and funders who are collectively working with a menagerie of lab animals, including mice, ferrets, and several species of monkeys.
“A lot of the traditional silos of information are really coming down,” says the group’s co-chair, William Dowling, who works on vaccine development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
According to a CNN report, ferrets were able to "catch" the virus, although it didn't appear to harm them. Dogs, on the other hand, were not susceptible, according to the study. The virus showed up in the feces of five dogs, but no infectious virus was uncovered [also see: "Are Our Pets Susceptible To Coronavirus?"]. Pigs, chickens and ducks were also not very hospitable venues for the virus.
A Social Media Hamster
However, while all of these studies continue, Chan's group appears to have the edge. His hamster research may help further educate us as to how the virus spreads. When his team puts one infected hamster in a cage with an uninfected hamster, they found the transmission of the virus every time.
On another front, while not very scientific, late-night comic John Oliver seems to also agree with the "hamster" theory. In fact, he claims a social media hamster knows more about this disease than the president of the United States.
If you don't want to watch the entire 22-minute video, you can go to 21:16 to enjoy a laugh or two, at a hamster's expense.
Primary Source: Science Magazine