Investigation of the Role of Healthy and Sick Equids in the COVID-19 Pandemic through Serological and Molecular Testing

Animals (Basel). 2022 Feb 28;12(5):614. doi: 10.3390/ani12050614.


More and more studies are reporting on the natural transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans with COVID-19 and their companion animals (dogs and cats). While horses are apparently susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection based on the homology between the human and the equine ACE-2 receptor, no clinical or subclinical infection has yet been reported in the equine species. To investigate the possible clinical role of SARS-CoV-2 in equids, nasal secretions from 667 horses with acute onset of fever and respiratory signs were tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 by qPCR. The samples were collected from January to December of 2020 and submitted to a commercial molecular diagnostic laboratory for the detection of common respiratory pathogens (equine influenza virus, equine herpesvirus-1/-4, equine rhinitis A and B virus, Streptococcus equi subspecies equi). An additional 633 serum samples were tested for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 using an ELISA targeting the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein. The serum samples were collected from a cohort of 587 healthy racing Thoroughbreds in California after track personnel tested qPCR-positive for SARS-CoV-2. While 241/667 (36%) equids with fever and respiratory signs tested qPCR-positive for at least one of the common respiratory pathogens, not a single horse tested qPCR-positive for SARS-CoV-2. Amongst the racing Thoroughbreds, 35/587 (5.9%) horses had detectable antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Similar to dogs and cats, horses do not seem to develop clinical SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, horses can act as incidental hosts and experience silent infection following spillover from humans with COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2-infected humans should avoid close contact with equids during the time of their illness.

Keywords: ELISA; SARS-CoV-2; blood; healthy horses; horses; nasal secretions; qPCR; sick equids.