The emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in a pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which continues to cause infections and mortality worldwide. SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted primarily via the respiratory route and has experimentally been found to be stable on surfaces for multiple days. Flies (Diptera) and other arthropods mechanically transmit several pathogens, including turkey coronavirus. A previous experimental study demonstrated house flies, Musca domestica, can mechanically transmit SARS-CoV-2, but the ability of flies in general to acquire and deposit this virus in natural settings has not been explored. The purpose of this study was to explore the possibility of mechanical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by peridomestic insects and their potential as a xenosurveillance tool for detection of the virus.
In order to optimize chances of viral detection, flies were trapped in homes where at least one confirmed human COVID-19 case(s) resided. Sticky and liquid baited fly traps were deployed inside and outside of the homes of SARS-CoV-2 human cases in Brazos, Bell, and Montgomery Counties, from June to September 2020. Flies from sticky traps were identified, pooled by taxa, homogenized, and tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA using qRT-PCR. Liquid traps were drained, and the collected fluid similarly tested after RNA concentration. Experimental viral detection pipeline and viral inactivation were confirmed in a Biosafety Level 3 lab. As part of a separate ongoing study, companion animals in the home were sampled and tested for SARS-CoV-2 on the same day of insect trap deployment.
We processed the contents of 133 insect traps from 44 homes, which contained over 1,345 individual insects of 11 different Diptera families and Blattodea.
These individuals were grouped into 243 pools, and all tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Dead flies exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in a BSL3 lab were processed using the same methods and viral RNA was detected by RT-PCR. Fourteen traps in seven homes were deployed on the day that cat or dog samples tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA by nasal, oral, body, or rectal samples.
This study presents evidence that biting and non-biting flies are not likely to contribute to mechanical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or be useful in xenosurveillance for SARS-CoV-2.