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expert reaction to media reports that some hamsters will be culled in Hong Kong after a pet shop employee, a customer and some hamsters reportedly tested positive for SARS-CoV-2

There have been reports that thousands of hamsters will be culled and about 150 pet store visitors sent to government quarantine facilities in Hong Kong over COVID fears.


Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said:

“It is not surprising that hamsters kept in large numbers in pet shops have become infected with COVID-19.  It was recognised early in the pandemic that the golden hamster was highly susceptible to infection with this virus and we have since seen a variety of species infected through close contact with human owners, including dogs and cats commonly being infected by their owners around the world (although very few have been unwell – most animals have been entirely asymptomatic).

“It would be most unlikely for an animal as small as a hamster to infect a human, especially if they were taking basic hygienic precautions – certainly there are no documented cases of humans being infected by dogs or cats, although it is noteworthy that farmed mink kept in large numbers did infect humans.  The approach of the HK authorities of killing hundreds of hamsters does seem to be unwarranted, but does reflect the most stringent zero covid approach being taken there.”


Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said:

“There is no direct evidence for animal to human transmission.

“It is interesting, however, that pet animals and other species (e.g. mink, tigers) can get infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that certain virus variants are more efficient at infecting mice.  Whether this results in levels of virus replication significant enough for these animals to infect humans has not been demonstrated.

“The cull of 17 million minks in Denmark was in response to outbreaks of covid in more than 200 mink farms and some evidence that a variant of the virus that had developed in mink had spread back into humans.  This was in late 2020 before vaccines were generally available.  This risk now of such spread from animals is very limited particularly as more folk get vaccinated.  Nevertheless it is interesting that at the San Diego Zoo tigers and primates have been vaccinated!”






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