Is the virus that causes COVID-19 a threat to cranes?

The SARS CoV-2 virus – Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 – the cause of COVID-19 in people, is a member of a widespread and large group of viruses that may cause disease in animals and humans. There are no described coronavirus-associated diseases among the 15 species of cranes, and we do not believe the current pandemic is a threat to cranes at this time.

Coronaviruses are generally species specific. The viruses that infect humans would not be expected to infect birds or vice versa. But recent research suggests there is more variation in coronaviruses, and experiments with mammalian coronaviruses have shown that they are not limited to causing disease in a single host. Indeed, the SARS CoV-1 virus that caused a 2003 pandemic in people was capable of infecting several different mammal species.

Avian coronaviruses differ genetically from mammalian coronaviruses. They have been described from chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigeons, pheasants, ostriches, Japanese quail, guinea fowl and psittacines, among others. Infectious bronchitis virus and turkey coronavirus are well known to cause disease in domestic chickens and turkeys, respectively, much of which is mild in severity.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the International Crane Foundation will take great care to maintain the health of our animal care staff and the cranes through best practices that stress personal and environmental hygiene, close monitoring and adherence to our Captive Crane Biosecurity Plan. Click here to read the message on our response to COVID-19 from our President and CEO Rich Beilfuss.

Story submitted by Dr. Barry Hartup, Director of Conservation Medicine for the International Crane Foundation.