Health officials in Taiwan are investigating whether a mouse bite is responsible for a laboratory worker falling sick and if it can possibly lead to a new COVID-19 outbreak on the island.
The lab worker, a woman in her 20s, works at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute. She tested positive after she came in contact with the virus during the course of her work in mid-November, Health Minister Chen Shih Chung, informed in a briefing on Thursday evening. The woman had received both the initial doses of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine and has not travelled abroad recently.
At the same briefing, another senior health official, confirming the local media reports, said that the worker had been bitten by a laboratory mouse infected with COVID-19. However, Taiwanese authorities believe that further investigation would be required before reaching a conclusion of whether the mouse is the source of transmission or not. The authorities have said that it is likely that she is infected with the Delta variant.
Prior to this incident, the last confirmed case in Taiwan was on November 5, owing to the island maintaining tough entry and quarantine measures at the border. With restrictions on businesses and domestic activity being eased, this lab leak poses a threat to Taiwan’s hard efforts to eliminate the pathogen in their country.
Taiwan has reported just over 14,500 domestic cases of COVID-19 and 848 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
“94 people who came in contact with the lab worker have been identified and placed in quarantine by the health authorities, out of whom eighty of them have tested negative. Since, most of the people who were made to quarantine tested negative, it may not lead to an outbreak,” the Health Minister stated on Friday.
The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low based on available information, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been no evidence that animals play a big role in the spread of the virus,” said the CDC.
However, the organization said that further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be impacted by the virus and how infected animals can spread the virus to humans.