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Ferrets enter the COVID fight

The last two weeks have been tumultuous. For all of us, there were moments of both elation and incredulity.

The word “incredulity,” by the way, means “a state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.”

The moment in this topsy-turvy time period that gave me some satisfaction, maybe even a little elation, involved ferrets. Yes, ferrets. Those four-legged, black-footed creatures that call the weasel extended family. For those of you who have them as pets, you know they display many of the behavioral characteristics of dogs or cats. One important piece of information if you are considering a ferret as a pet is that ferrets can be trained to use a litter box. Another consideration — they can catch and spread disease to humans.

That realization, and the opportunity it offers, is exactly why ferrets captured my attention this week. What I am about to share might be a game-changer.

In a recent issue of the New York Times, a headline above a half-page article read, “Nasal Spray Halts Covid in Ferrets.” International researchers from three prestigious universities, working collaboratively, reportedly identified a nontoxic spray that, when used daily, prevented the virus from occurring in a sample of ferrets exposed to it. The easy-to-administer nasal spray demonstrated effectiveness against four different strains of the virus.

Ferrets get the same kind of respiratory infections as humans, so they are the perfect research specimen. For the lucky ferrets in this study, a daily spritz up the nose acted as a vaccine. The “really promising” spray, according to one reviewer of the research, indicated it could be “produced as a freeze-dried white powder that does not need refrigeration.” Predictably, it would be inexpensive. It would not have the sub-zero transport and storage challenges the vaccines under development seem to have. “A physician or pharmacist could mix the powder with sugar and water to produce a nasal spray.”

The virus at this moment is spreading more rapidly than at any other point since it arrived on the scene. We can do our part by stepping up to the recommendations that protect us and our more vulnerable family members or an aging neighbor. If ferrets are stepping up — should we not do that as well?

If you have not already done so, find the mask that fits you the most comfortably and maybe even sends a message of affirmation and hope. Wash it often and wear it constantly when in a public setting. Keep your distance from others, who are hopefully also masked, and wash your hands well and regularly.

I am thinking if we do our part while medical researchers keep gaining ground on anti-viral options and vaccines, this pandemic can be beat. There is a lot in motion that is incredibly positive. It’s not just the preventative nasal spray shown to be effective with ferrets. You probably heard the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that early data show it has developed a vaccine with a better than 90% likelihood of preventing Covid-19. Other companies, including Moderna and Noravax, also reported encouraging vaccine news. As I said, game-changing. Stand ready. Stay positive.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.