COVID-19-Zoonosis or Emerging Infectious Disease?

Front Public Health. 2020 Nov 26;8:596944. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.596944. eCollection 2020.


The World Health Organization defines a zoonosis as any infection naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans. The pandemic of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 has been classified as a zoonotic disease, however, no animal reservoir has yet been found, so this classification is premature. We propose that COVID-19 should instead be classified an "emerging infectious disease (EID) of probable animal origin." To explore if COVID-19 infection fits our proposed re-categorization vs. the contemporary definitions of zoonoses, we reviewed current evidence of infection origin and transmission routes of SARS-CoV-2 virus and described this in the context of known zoonoses, EIDs and "spill-over" events. Although the initial one hundred COVID-19 patients were presumably exposed to the virus at a seafood Market in China, and despite the fact that 33 of 585 swab samples collected from surfaces and cages in the market tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, no virus was isolated directly from animals and no animal reservoir was detected. Elsewhere, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in animals including domesticated cats, dogs, and ferrets, as well as captive-managed mink, lions, tigers, deer, and mice confirming zooanthroponosis. Other than circumstantial evidence of zoonotic cases in mink farms in the Netherlands, no cases of natural transmission from wild or domesticated animals have been confirmed. More than 40 million human COVID-19 infections reported appear to be exclusively through human-human transmission. SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 do not meet the WHO definition of zoonoses. We suggest SARS-CoV-2 should be re-classified as an EID of probable animal origin.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; emerging infectious disease (EID); spillover; zoonoses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • COVID-19 / classification*
  • China
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging* / classification
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging* / transmission
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging* / virology
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2 / classification*
  • World Health Organization
  • Zoonoses* / classification
  • Zoonoses* / transmission
  • Zoonoses* / virology