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Otters test positive for COVID-19 at Georgia Aquarium

COVID transmission between humans & animals
COVID transmission between humans & animals 07:03

Even animals at the aquarium cannot escape the pandemic unscathed. A group of otters has tested positive for COVID-19, but they are expected to make a "full recovery."

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta announced Sunday that seven Asian small-clawed otters have contracted the virus. 

The otters were tested after showing "mild respiratory symptoms including sneezing, runny noses, mild lethargy, and coughing." The aquarium consulted with both the state veterinarian's office and the department of health before testing the animals. 

The infected otters, which are geriatric, are now being cared for by animal health care experts outside of their exhibit. 

"Our Asian small-clawed otters are under very close monitoring by veterinarians and animal care team members. They have displayed only mild symptoms and we expect them all to make a full recovery," Dr. Tonya Clauss, vice president of animal and environmental health at Georgia Aquarium, said in a statement. "We are providing supportive care as needed so they can eat, rest and recover."

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Seven Asian small-clawed otters at the Georgia Aquarium have tested positive for COVID-19. Addison Hill / Georgia Aquarium

The aquarium said that its staff members are following all recommended health and safety protocols. However, officials suspect the otters caught the virus from an asymptomatic staff member. 

The risk of animal-to-human transmission is "incredibly rare," the aquarium said, but all staff members who interact with the otters have been tested. 

The otters never have direct contact with guests and remain separated from them by acrylic barriers at all times. The aquarium said they will remain off-exhibit as officials continue to monitor their health. 

"Information on the impact of COVID-19 in otter species is unknown," the aquarium said. "Based on other zoological facility animals and the Aquarium's small-clawed otters' health status, it is anticipated there will not be any long-term health issues from COVID-19." 

Several other animals have tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic, including dogscats, thousands of mink, and tigers. In March, great apes at the San Diego Zoo became the first non-humans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

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