by Ron Harrishandjob The Associated Press
ATLANTA — At least 18 of the 20 gorillas at Atlanta’s zoo have now tested positive for COVID-19, an outbreak that came days before zoos hoped to receive a veterinary vaccine for primates had started, officials said on Tuesday.
Zoo Atlanta announced the first positive tests among western lowland gorillas on Friday after staff noticed the gorillas were coughing, runny nose and showing changes in appetite. A veterinary laboratory at the University of Georgia tested positive for the respiratory disease.
Zoo Atlanta says that the National Veterinary Services laboratories in Ames, Iowa, have confirmed that at least four samples of the gorilla have tested positive for the delta version of the virus.
The zoo says it is using monoclonal antibodies to treat gorillas at risk of complications from the virus.
Officials say there is no evidence that gorillas can transmit the virus back to humans and that visitors are too far away to be infected with gorillas.
Because the gorillas live together in four troops, zoo officials say it is impossible to isolate infected animals.
Zoo officials say they believe an asymptomatic staff caring for a gorilla passed on the virus. The employee was fully vaccinated and was wearing protective equipment such as a mask and gloves.
“According to our guidelines for animal care workers, they have to stay home if they have even the slightest symptoms of a cold,” said Dr. Sam Rivera, the zoo’s senior director of animal health. “It so happens that a member of the animal care team, the next day he developed signs that he suspected he might be compliant with COVID and was tested and was positive.”
Sam Rivera, senior director of animal health at Zoo Atlanta, said the zoo will vaccinate the gorillas with a veterinary vaccine that was on the waiting list before the gorillas tested positive.
Eight gorillas were treated for the virus at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in January. One San Diego silverback received an experimental antibody regimen, and all recovered.
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