FAQ Coronavirus & AAP

Dozens of scientific studies on coronavirus / COVID-19 are published every day. The specialists and veterinarians at AAP follow these studies and results closely and will adjust the management and care of the animals where necessary. It is possible that we will regularly update this Q&A on the basis of new studies.

1. What kind of virus is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a viral infectious disease that was first reported in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019. This acute respiratory disease is caused by a virus called SARS-COV-2, which belongs to the coronavirus family. The name SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona virus 2 (SARS-CoV-1 is the closely related virus that caused SARS in 2002-2003).

2. Are the animals at AAP also susceptible to COVID-19? And if so, are all species the same or is there a difference between primates and other mammals as coatis and squirrels?
Primates in particular appear to be susceptible to the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Scientific research shows that a few primate species (rhesus monkey, Java monkey) develop relatively mild symptoms (cold and mild pneumonia) after infection. Laboratories mainly use healthy young animals for tests. It is therefore plausible that older animals with underlying health problems may develop much more serious symptoms, similar to those in humans.

Carnivores (such as felines and mustelids) are probably a lot less susceptible. Rodents appear not to be susceptible to the virus. This means that other AAP animals, such as tigers and lions, but also coatis, raccoons and squirrels, may risk contamination. On the 5th of April news came out a tiger in Bronx Zoo tested positive for coronavirus. This animal, among 6 others, had mild symptoms (dry cough, lost of appetite). 

Each primate species appears to respond to varying degrees of infection with coronaviruses in general. Callitrichid are more sensitive to these viruses than rhesus monkeys and Java monkeys. Nothing is (yet) known about the sensitivity of great apes to SARS-CoV-2. We assume that an infection in apes produces similar symptoms as in humans.

3. Can pets and farm animals get it?
So far, there is no evidence that pets or farm animals are susceptible to this coronavirus and can transmit it to humans. The virus has however been found in the nasal mucosa of domestic cats.

4. Is there extra sensitivity or vulnerability in your animals? Does this apply to all animals at AAP?
The coronavirus mainly affects elderly people over the age of 55 who have an underlying condition, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. This group is more likely to develop serious symptoms and death. At AAP we house relatively many animals of age. Age complaints therefore occur regularly. Older chimpanzees suffer from heart complaints, the smaller primates have diabetes and older cats get their kidneys. Another factor is that many animals are traumatized (mentally and / or physically) at AAP due to their past. and / or mentally damaged. This makes them extra susceptible to infection and illness.

5. Can those animals at AAP (and zoo animals) get COVID-19 without showing symptoms and perhaps infect people later on?
Recent scientific research shows that after infection with the coronavirus, primates have built up protection (immunity) against a subsequent infection. So they will not get sick for a second time and will therefore no longer be able to excrete a virus and infect other animals or people.

6. Do you have experience with keeping out such viruses?
Every winter we deal with colds and flu among our staff. Particularly vulnerable and old primates can get quite sick. That is why sick animal caretakers have to look good at home and when they have a cold they wear a mask to prevent transmission to the animals. Fortunately, we usually manage to keep flu out of our animals.

7. What measures have you already taken?
Most of the measures that the government has advised, we already apply at AAP as standard: wash hands regularly, do not cough or sneeze in your hand, and use a mask for complaints such as a cold, a cold sore or stomach flu. This does not apply only for animal caretakers and veterinarians, but also for staff who prepare the food for the animals in our feed kitchen.

At the beginning of March, we took additional measures to prevent the coronavirus: no more visitors were allowed, animal caretakers with cold complaints stayed at home and face mask is being used when performing tasks where the distance between animal caretaker and animal is less than 1.5 meter. We also stopped the intake of new animals due to a shortage of facemasks and disinfection liquid. From March 13, national measures were added to the procedure.

8. What do you do if your animals get infected?
Primate groups at AAP are currently kept as separated as possible from each other and are no longer moved within the department where they are located. If an animal develops respiratory or cold complaints, we will take good care of this animal and keep an eye on whether the virus may spread to group members or other groups. We will try to isolate primates with more serious complaints and have them cared for by caretakers who provide extra protection and who do not come to other departments.

If we suspect infection of one of our animals with the SARS-CoV-2, we contact the NVWA, because the disease is notifiable. The NVWA can advise to have the suspect animal tested. 9. Can the animals be treated? Do you need resources that would otherwise be used for people?

No medicine is yet available for people with coronavirus infection. A lot of research is currently being done on this subject. Treatment at AAP will primarily focus on alleviating symptoms and supporting the animal. Ventilation under anesthesia, such as in patients with severe complaints in intensive care, is unfortunately not an option for our animals.

9. Can the animals be treated? Do you need resources that would otherwise be used for people?
No medicine is yet available for people with coronavirus infection. A lot of research is currently being done on this subject. Treatment at AAP will primarily focus on alleviating symptoms and supporting the animal. Ventilation under anesthesia, such as in patients with severe complaints in intensive care, is unfortunately not an option for our animals.

10. Does AAP's approach differ from that in zoos?
Zoos have remained open to the public for a relatively long time, which may have posed a higher risk of infection. Zoos, on the other hand, have a more diverse population of different animal groups and species, the vast majority of which are not susceptible to coronavirus. In the event that an animal becomes ill, the virus is less likely to spread within / across the animal population. AAP has a large population with over 25 primate species, which are generally more vulnerable than zoo animals and may all be susceptible to coronavirus. At AAP, we have therefore always applied strict hygiene measures and we have no direct contact with the animals. The additional measures taken by AAP and zoos are similar. We follow the same advice from experts and are in contact with each other to inform and help each other where possible.

11. Will the Dutch group immunity approach also work for the animals at AAP? If so, how?
Recent scientific research shows that after infection with the coronavirus, primates have built up protection (immunity) against a subsequent infection. So they will not get sick for a second time and will therefore no longer be able to excrete a virus and infect other animals or people.

If, despite our hygiene measures, animals do get sick, they will become immune after recovery. Since a large proportion of our animals are fragile and somewhat older, and an infection may not survive, we strive to keep the coronavirus out of AAP.

12. Do you still have enough protective materials to do your work?
Because we do not currently take new animals in our quarantine, we save facemasks, gloves and disinfectant soap, which we can then use for protection and hygiene in the other animal departments. We hardly have filter caps, which are in short supply in hospitals and care centers.

13. Is there a scarcity at AAP, what do you need?
We are deeply grateful for all the motivational words and moral support from people who care about the staff and animals at AAP. AAP depends on donors and volunteers. All your support is very welcome in these difficult times.

At the moment we still have sufficient supplies of medicines and food for our animals. We also have sufficient protective material for our staff for the coming month. At AAP Primadomus we notice that some medication, gloves and facemasks can no longer be supplied. This could also happen in the Netherlands and could mean that we are less able to protect our animals and ourselves against possible infections. This concerns infections that can be transmitted from primates to humans, but also infections that we as humans can transfer to primates.