RA-COVID-19 V2 - Recherche - Action Coronavirus disease 2019 - Vague 2

SARS-CoV-2 endemization in wildlife of African rainforest following the spread of COVID-19 in the Republic of the Congo – SPILLBACK

Submission summary

Since December 2019, when reports of a new respiratory disease began to emerge from Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has spread worldwide, causing, causing 4 million confirmed cases and 250 000 deaths as of May 5, 2020. Recently, the outbreak has started to spread in Africa, raising major concerns for public health officials who must grapple with limiting viral spread and reducing loss of life in a region depleted of adequate health care structures and laboratories to contain and fight the outbreak. As the virus spreads among humans in the African rainforest region, the crucial question of possible endemization of SARS-CoV-2 through spillback into rainforest wildlife needs to be urgently addressed. Indeed, socio-ecological similarities between the African rainforest region and rural Southeast Asia, combined with the high propensity of SARS-CoV-2 to cross the species barrier and infect a large diversity of animal species, strongly suggest that SARS-CoV-2 will likely spillback to African rainforest wildlife, and possibly establish new zoonotic reservoirs. Such reservoirs would be a major public health issue because they could act as a constant source of occasional spillovers into neighbouring human populations.
The SPILLBACK project aims to investigate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spillback, directly or through domestic animal contamination, into African rainforest wildlife following the spread of COVID-19 in the Republic of the Congo (RoC). The project brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts from IRD, the University of Caen, the National Laboratory of Public Health (LNSP) and the Epidemiology Department, Direction of Livestock from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fishing, RoC. We will focus on all potential actors of host-species expansion and interspecies transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the African rainforest environment. Over a 10-month follow-up in the RoC, samples from wild animals (bats, rodents, carnivores, mustelids, pangolins etc.) in habitats neighbouring human settlements, as well as pets and farm animals interacting with SARS-CoV-2-infected owners and breeders will be monitored for evidence of spillback.
The SPILLBACK project will undoubtedly provide valuable information on the potential SARS-CoV-2 spillback and endemization into native African rainforest wildlife, and the possibility and the degree of pet and farm animal infections arising from documented COVID-19 cases. The study will also generate new insights into the diversity of SARS-CoV-related viruses already circulating in animal populations in the RoC. Finally, given the diversity of coronaviruses already circulating in African rainforest wildlife, particular attention will be paid to identify novel infectious SARS-CoV-related viruses that might evolve from serial interspecies transmission of sARS-CoV-2 or genetic recombination in permissive hosts. The ultimate objective is to implement a surveillance network to prevent and fight SARS-CoV outbreaks as soon as possible. This includes the potential re-emergence of SARS-CoV-2 from newly established zoonotic reservoirs as well as possible infections from novel and highly virulent SARS-CoV-related viruses circulating in African rainforest animals that are capable of spillovers to humans.

Project coordination

Eric LEROY (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IRD Institut de Recherche pour le Développement

Help of the ANR 149,933 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: June 2020 - 12 Months

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