Game animals are wildlife species traded and consumed as food and are potential reservoirs for SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. We performed a meta-transcriptomic analysis of 1,941 game animals, representing 18 species and five mammalian orders, sampled across China. From this, we identified 102 mammalian-infecting viruses, with 65 described for the first time. Twenty-one viruses were considered as potentially high risk to humans and domestic animals. Civets (Paguma larvata) carried the highest number of potentially high-risk viruses. We inferred the transmission of bat-associated coronavirus from bats to civets, as well as cross-species jumps of coronaviruses from bats to hedgehogs, from birds to porcupines, and from dogs to raccoon dogs. Of note, we identified avian Influenza A virus H9N2 in civets and Asian badgers, with the latter displaying respiratory symptoms, as well as cases of likely human-to-wildlife virus transmission. These data highlight the importance of game animals as potential drivers of disease emergence.
Keywords: coronavirus; disease emergence; emerging pathogens; evolution; game animals; host switch; virome.
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