SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are transmitted through the air between ferrets over more than one meter distance
Published 25 November 2020 | Updated 14 June 2021
Kutter, J.S. et al. (2021) SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are transmitted through the air between ferrets over more than one meter distance. Nature Communications, 12, no. 1653. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21918-6
This study reports on the transmission between ferrets of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, as well as influenza A (H1N1) which was used to test the setup. The study used a setup arranged so that the distance that air had to travel between the infected and recipient ferrets exceeded 1 meter (average 118cm). (See image of experimental transmission set-up)
The authors reported that both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses caused a robust productive respiratory tract infection resulting in transmission of SARS-CoV to all four, and SARS-CoV-2 to two of four, indirect recipient ferrets. All SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 positive indirect recipient ferrets had seroconverted at 11- and 17-days post exposure, respectively. The two indirect recipient ferrets, in which no SARS-CoV-2 was detected, did not seroconvert. The authors conclude that although the experiments did not discriminate between transmission via small aerosols, large droplets and fomites, these results demonstrate that SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious while travelling through the air.
The authors also reported an additional part of the study to see if fur could serve as a carrier for infectious virus. Fur swabs from the left and right flank of SARS-CoV inoculated donor ferrets were also collected in the last experiment from 3 to 9 days post inoculation. SARS-CoV RNA was detected in fur swabs of all donor ferrets. This analysis showed that the grooming of ferrets can result in virus contamination of fur. SARS-CoV RNA levels were on average 240-fold lower than those in throat and nasal swabs of the same donor ferrets. Importantly, no infectious virus was isolated from these fur samples. Although this part of the study only involved four ferrets and only looked at SARS-CoV, not SARS-CoV-2, it does provide some evidence that the likelihood of spreading coronavirus through handling of infected animals is low.