The introduction of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19 infection, to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs, which may, in turn, result in the emergence of a new virus variant, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.
The WHO made the statement jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
It called for prioritising monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 infection in wildlife and preventing the formation of animal reservoirs.
Although the Covid pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is also known to infect animal species.
Current knowledge also indicates that wildlife does not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.
But, besides domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer, and great apes have been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
In addition, farmed mink and pet hamsters have shown to be capable of infecting humans with the Covid while a potential case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human is currently under review.
The FAO, OIE and WHO called on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife "with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and for protecting both humans and wildlife".
The organisations urged authorities to adopt relevant regulations and recommend personnel working closely with wildlife to be trained to implement measures that reduce the risk of transmission between people and between people and animals.
The guidelines include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene practices around animals, including good hygiene practices for hunters and butchers.
While there is no evidence to back that eating meat can cause Covid, hunters should not track animals that appear sick or harvest those that are found dead, the statement read.
"Appropriate butchering and food preparing techniques, including proper hygiene practices, can limit transmission of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and other zoonotic pathogens," it added.
The organisations also urged countries to suspend the sale of captured live wild mammals in food markets as an emergency measure.