No COVID-19 in snow geese, concludes Université Laval study
Published on 10 Jun 2020
A study conducted by Université Laval researchers from three Sentinel North Research Chairs concludes that snow geese are not carriers of the virus responsible for COVID-19 and that hunting and eating these birds is safe.
The team captured 500 snow geese last May near Montmagny, 80 km east of Québec City, in order to collect samples to determine the presence of the virus responsible for COVID-19 in their oral secretions and excrement. The analyzes carried out at CHU de Québec-Université Laval’s Laboratory of Infectious and Immune Diseases revealed no trace of the virus in the 500 birds tested.
All the members of the field team were tested for COVID-19 before, during and after sampling and took all necessary measures to prevent contamination of the birds, which were released after sampling.
The three Sentinel North Research Chairs responsible for the study are :
Sentinel North Research Chair on the Impact of Animal Migrations on Arctic Ecosystems
(Chairholder : Pierre Legagneux)
Sentinel North Partnership Research Chair on Ecosystemic Approaches to Health
(Chairholder : Mélanie Lemire)
Food security and the importance of traditional foods
Snow geese are prized game in Quebec as well as in the North (especially in Eeyou Istchee region, Nunavik, and Nunavut). It contributes significantly to food security in Indigenous settings, which is precarious in many communities. Traditional foods are essential to health, social cohesion, identity and cultural continuity, as well as nutritional sovereignty in Indigenous communities. In addition, the price of market foods is much greater in isolated and northern communities than in southern Canada.
Confirming the virus’ absence to reassure Indigenous and coastal communities
The research team undertook the task of confirming the absence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in snow geese transiting through Quebec in order to respond to their Indigenous and coastal Quebec partners’ concerns, especially considering that :
- Food security is a major issue in northern communities and it is important to confirm the safety of snow geese as a resource;
- Northern populations are vulnerable to infectious respiratory diseases like COVID-19;
- The research team was already conducting a demographic and virological monitoring of the snow goose population and could include SARS-CoV-2 to the viruses already being monitored.
Opportunities for collaborative research
“The pandemic has transformed the way we usually conduct research and has forced us to find new ways of pursuing our work”, explains Pierre Legagneux, professor at Université Laval’s Department of Biology and one of the study’s coinvestigators. “However, this context has also allowed us to think outside the box and investigate this research question in spontaneous and innovative manner and, most importantly, as a direct response to concerns from our Indigenous partners. This project mobilized funds and devoted personnel in record time, as samples had to be collected and analyzed before the geese arrived in northern communities. This project demonstrates that prioritizing Indigenous concerns can lead to successful collaborative efforts”, continues Pr. Legagneux, who holds the Sentinel North Research Chair on the Impact of Animal Migrations on Arctic Ecosystems.
“The next steps will be to characterize viral families carried by snow geese, including other coronaviruses,” adds Catherine Girard, a postdoctoral fellow at Université Laval's Viral Discovery and Ecology Laboratory and a coinvestigator in the study. “The current pandemic has shown us the importance of understanding animals as potential viral reservoirs, and a better understanding of these viruses will better prepare us for future epidemics,” concludes Girard, who will join Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC) this fall as a professor of microbiology.
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