How does COVID-19 end up on your farm? Are farmers immune to COVID-19? Can you get COVID-19 from your animals? Can infected farmers spread it to their animals? Here are a few resources to help explain the situation as we currently know it.
How does COVID-19 end up on your farm?
It is important to know that if you live on a farm that has physical space surrounding the property, that COVID-19 virus cannot suddenly “show up” on your farm. It is transmitted by a person who is infected through droplets in the air or droplets that directly or indirectly reach contaminated surfaces.
Much of the work and activity done on farms includes people who are working either by themselves, outside, or six feet (or further away) from others. So, risks for most farmers and farm workers are likely lower than if working in a crowded indoor space (like an office) or attending an event where multiple people have gathered (school events, church services, and restaurants). With that said, we are still concerned about farm operators, their employees and their families becoming infected. Symptoms tend to be worse for older individuals, though the U.S. has also seen severe illness in younger individuals. Everyone should follow ALL prevention guidelines provided by the state and federal government.
For more see:
Center for Disease Control: How to Protect Yourself & Others
COVID-19: I’m a farmer and I am afraid – what are my risks?
COVID-19: Social Distancing for Farmers
COVID-19: I’m having seed, feed, chemicals and other products delivered – what precautions should I take?
Are farmers immune to COVID-19?
There are reports of a notion making the rounds that individuals who work with cattle have a natural resistance or immunity to COVID-19, because of exposures to the broader family of coronaviruses. These Coronavirus types cause scours in pre-weaned calves, winter dysentery in confined cattle, or associated with certain pneumonias in cattle. At this time, there is no known resistance for any human to COVID-19, including farmers, their families or their employees.
We don’t have to worry about the safety of food being produced on farms according to Dr. Gregg Hanzlicek, Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab Director. He notes, “Milk, eggs, beef pork…whatever the source of your protein, people do not have to worry because those products don’t carry COVID-19.”
Can you get COVID-19 from your animals? Can infected farmers spread it to their animals?
Certain species may be more prone to contracting viruses from the humans in their environment, a process
called reverse zoonosis. In turn, animals can give certain viruses to humans (zoonosis). At this time, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that there have been no reports of pets or livestock becoming ill with COVID-19 in the United States. At this point in time, there is also no evidence that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, can spread COVID-19 to people.
For more see: American Veterinary Medical Association: COVID-19
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued a report about the tiger in New York that contracted COVID-19 from its handler. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animal species could be affected by COVID-19.
When your animal is showing signs of illness, APHIS recommends that you call your veterinarian. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed to a person sick with COVID-19. USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested.
For more see: USDA Statement on the Confirmation of COVID-19 in a Tiger in New York
This situation is changing and we will continue to learn more as the pandemic evolves. For up to date information, along with visiting the sites listed in this article, visit the: University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension COVID-19 site.
Written by: Sandy Stuttgen, DVM Agriculture Educator, Dr. Megan Nelson, Livestock Program Manager, and Bill Halfman, Agriculture Agent, all with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension