This joint statement was published by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organization (WHO) on 7th March 2022

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is spreading between people at an intense level globally. There are many factors that are driving transmission. One of these is the emergence of highly transmissible variants of concern, the latest being Omicron. The virus continues to evolve and the risk of future emergence of variants is high.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is also known to infect animal species. Current knowledge indicates that wildlife does not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.

In addition to domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have thus far been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. To date, farmed mink and pet hamsters have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a potential case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human is currently under review.

The introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs. For example, it has been reported that, approximately one-third of wild white-tailed deer in the United States of America have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, initially via several human-to-deer transmission events. The SARS-CoV-2 lineages detected in white-tailed deer have also been circulating in close-by human populations. White-tailed deer have been shown to shed virus and transmit it between each other.

FAO, OIE and WHO call on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and for protecting both humans and wildlife. We urge authorities to adopt relevant regulations and disseminate previously released recommendations by FAO, OIE and WHO to (1) people working in close contact with or handling wildlife, including hunters and butchers; and (2) the public.Personnel working closely with wildlife should be trained to implement measures that reduce the risk of transmission between people and between people and animals, using WHO advice on how to protect oneself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and OIE and FAO guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene practices around animals, including good hygiene practices for hunters and butchers.

Current evidence suggests that humans are not infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus by eating meat. However, hunters should not track animals that appear sick or harvest those that are found dead. Appropriate butchering and food preparing techniques, including proper hygiene practices, can limit transmission of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and other zoonotic pathogens.

FAO, OIE and WHO stress that the public should be educated about contact with wildlife. Some wild animals may come close to human settlements and residential areas. As a general precaution, people should not approach or feed wild animals or touch or eat those that are orphaned, sick or found dead (including road kills). Instead, they should contact local wildlife authorities or a wildlife health professional.

It is also crucial to safely dispose of uneaten food, masks, tissues, and any other human waste to avoid attracting wildlife, especially to urban areas and, if possible, keep domestic animals away from wildlife and their droppings.

We furthermore encourage countries’ national animal and human health services to adopt the following measures:

  • Encourage collaboration between national veterinary services and national wildlife authorities, whose partnership is key to promoting animal health and safeguarding human and environmental health.
  • Promote monitoring of wildlife and encourage sampling of wild animals known to be potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
  • Share all genetic sequence data from animal surveillance studies through publicly available databases.
  • Report confirmed animal cases of SARS-CoV-2 to the OIE through the World Animal Health Information System (OIE-WAHIS).
  • Craft messages about SARS-CoV-2 in animals with care so that inaccurate public perceptions do not negatively impact conservation efforts. No animal found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 should be abandoned, rejected, or killed without providing justification from a country- or event-specific risk assessment.
  • Suspend the sale of captured live wild mammals in food markets as an emergency measure

Our organizations emphasize the importance of monitoring mammalian wildlife populations for SARS-CoV-2 infection, reporting results to National Veterinary Services (who report these findings to the OIE) and sharing genomic sequencing data on publicly available databases. Countries should also adopt precautions to reduce the risk of establishment of animal reservoirs and potential acceleration of virus evolution in novel hosts, which could lead to the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. Such measures will preserve the health of precious wildlife as well as humans.

We invite governments and other stakeholders to bring the contents of this joint statement to the attention of competent authorities and all parties concerned.

OHHLEP’s definition of “One Health”

Joint Tripartite (FAO, OIE, WHO) and UNEP welcome newly formed operational definition

The One Health definition developed by the OHHLEP states:

One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and inter-dependent. The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems, while addressing the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, taking action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) welcome the newly formed operational definition of One Health from their advisory panel, the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP), whose members represent a broad range of disciplines in science and policy-related sectors relevant to One Health from around the world. The four organizations are working together to mainstream One Health so that they are better prepared to prevent, predict, detect, and respond to global health threats and promote sustainable development.

The new comprehensive OHHLEP One Health definition aims to promote a clear understanding and translation across sectors and areas of expertise. While health, food, water, energy, and environment are all wider topics with sector specific and specialist concerns, the collaboration across sectors and disciplines will contribute to protecting health, addressing health challenges such as the emergence of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance and promoting health and integrity of our ecosystems. Moreover, One Health, linking humans, animals and the environment, can help to address the full spectrum of disease control – from disease prevention to detection, preparedness, response, and management – and to improve and promote health and sustainability.

Through combined energies of the four organizations, a comprehensive Global Plan of Action for One Health is in development, supported and advised by OHHLEP. This plan aims to mainstream and operationalize One Health at global, regional, and national levels; support countries in establishing and achieving national targets and priorities for interventions; mobilize investment; promote a whole of society approach and enable collaboration, learning and exchange across regions, countries, and sectors.

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