WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists are developing new tests and tools to identify and track the COVID virus and its variants in wild and domestic animals.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is currently implementing a $300 million provision in the American Rescue Plan Act to monitor susceptible animals for the COVID virus. Through this initiative, APHIS is partnering with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) on five research projects to improve understanding of the virus and to help USDA accomplish its goal of building an early warning system to potentially prevent or limit the next zoonotic disease outbreak or global pandemic.
“This investment ensures we are taking the steps necessary to safeguard our nation’s animal health—and further, public health,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Scientific research undergirds USDA’s programs and policies. The new tools and data generated from this research will provide the insights necessary to accelerate our understanding of the COVID virus and help us build a more resilient national capacity to address future disease threats.”
Two of the projects call for developing easy-to-use field tests to quickly identify COVID infection in wildlife and domestic animals. In two other projects, field and laboratory studies will determine how long the virus persists in deer and whether deer or elk can serve as an intermediate animal host in which COVID virus can survive in the wild and potentially mutate into new variants. The fifth project is developing a cell line model that will let researchers better predict which animal species may act as hosts or reservoirs for COVID virus.
Through these and other efforts, USDA is working to implement a risk-based, comprehensive, integrated disease monitoring and surveillance system domestically, and enhance collaborations with national, regional, and global One Health partners to build additional capacity for zoonotic disease surveillance and prevention.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.