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Tiger tests positive for COVID-19 at New York City zoo, first case of its kind in U.S.

Tiger tests positive for COVID-19

A 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at a zoo in New York City has tested positive for the novel (new) coronavirus, according to results from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Officials say it's thought to be the first known COVID-19 infection in an animal in the U.S., or of a tiger anywhere. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus.

The USDA said samples from the tiger, named Nadia, were taken and evaluated after several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo presented symptoms of respiratory illness. The zoo said Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions had developed a dry cough and decrease in appetite. They are all expected to recover.

Late Sunday night, the zoo tweeted that its chief veterinarian, Dr. Paul Calle said, "The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people."

Another tweet from the zoo added: "You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations."

Health officials say the large cats got sick from being exposed to a zoo employee who had COVID-19, but was asymptomatic. The Bronx Zoo has been closed since mid-March; the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27, according to the USDA. No other animals in the zoo are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, officials said.

"We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus," the zoo said in a statement.

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A Malayan tiger seen in an undated photo provided by the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Handout / Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo

Can humans get coronavirus from animals?

The USDA's press release said "there is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people," except for the initial outbreak at a food market in Wuhan, China. In addition, there is "no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. by animals, including by pet dogs or cats."

The USDA said "this is the first case of its kind" and "further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19."

Health officials recommend frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water or use alcohol-based sanitizer.

The Associated Press cites the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as recommending that out of an abundance of caution, people ill with the coronavirus should limit contact with animals.

Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested?

The USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for coronavirus, according to a press release. Officials say the pandemic is "ever-evolving" and "public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution."

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