This weekend a the tiger at the Bronx Zoo was positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. But it is a leap to worry if your domestic cat can get or transmit the corona virus, said Karen Terio, head of the Zoology Pathology Program at the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine, which helps diagnose tigers.
“A tiger is not a domestic cat, they are a completely different species of cat,” he said. “Until now we have no evidence of the virus being transmitted from pets to their owners. Very, very likely that the potential owner sent it to their pet. “
Even so, the risk of pets contracting the virus is low. Globally, only two dogs and two cats have tested positive for the virus, according to the report American Veterinary Association (AVMA).
The first publicly recorded example of a pet diagnosed with COVID-19 occurs in Hongkong in late February, and the Hong Kong Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation together with animal health experts at the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) concluded it as a case of human-to-animal transmission. Pet dogs belong to someone who has a virus, and authorities in the Hong Kong Department of Agriculture and OIE believe the dog contracted the virus from its owner.
“More than 1 million human cases at this point in the world and we have only seen four positive pets worldwide so far, so the risk is minimal. [for COVID-19] to get to pets, “said William Sander, assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health, also at the University of Illinois Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.
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Can your pet transmit the virus to you?
At this time, said Sander, there seems to be little or no risk of pets transmitting the virus to their human owners, without any specific evidence to suggest this type of transmission has occurred. “That is why in the US, we really do not try hard to test pets at all,” he said. In the U.S., no single case of pet has been diagnosed with the virus, at least according to the country Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“There is no reason to think that animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with the corona virus that causes COVID-19,” an AVMA spokeswoman wrote in an email statement to TIME. “COVID-19 appears to be mainly transmitted through contact with infected body secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in coughing or sneezing.”
Terio, however, stressed that there was still much that was unknown. If your pet, for example, has a virus, it is unclear whether your animal will show signs of infection like humans. Tigers at the Bronx Zoo show signs of respiratory distress, Terio said, “but there is much that we don’t know about how different animals will respond to viral infections.”
We don’t know whether an animal can be a carrier without symptoms, or if they experience a mild or severe form of the disease, Terio added. “This is the tip, you know, just trying to find out what’s going on,” he said. “Unfortunately there are far more questions than answers at the moment, and that’s difficult … I think all of this is troubling for everyone, and it’s hard when we don’t have good answers for people.”
Because of caution, the CDC and AVMA recommend that sick people stay away from their animal friends. “Just as you keep your distance from other people, try asking other people in your home to care for your pet, only to be very careful,” Sander said. If you are sick or have symptoms and you need to treat your pet, the CDC recommends avoiding curling or touching your pet, and washing your hands thoroughly before and after eating.
Sander and Terio noted that scientists still do not fully understand how viruses such as those that cause COVID-19 may or may not move between humans and pets.
Some preliminary studies, which have not been reviewed by colleagues, were shared on a public access website last week, Sander said, showing that some groups of pets can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in laboratory settings. Likewise, during the 2003 SARS-CoV outbreak, also caused by a coronavirus in the same family as SARS-CoV-2, the researchers determined that cats and ferrets could be infected with the virus – but that it was in the laboratory. The studies determine that there is little reason to worry that transmission – whether to humans or other animals – can occur in the natural environment, Sander said.
To understand SARS-CoV-2, “we base some of our educated guesses on the previous SARS-CoV that came out in 2003,” Sander said. Until now, researchers believe SARS-CoV-2, like SARS before, was not likely to spread from pets to humans.
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AVMA also warns against interpreting the results described in more recent studies, “some of which can report data from a small number of animals or only provide preliminary results.”
Can viruses live with feathers?
Although studies have shown that viruses can live on various surfaces for several hours or days, both Sander and AVMA say it is impossible for viruses to live on animal fur, although Terio notes that there is not enough research to say that with 100% certainty.
According to a study published in Journal of New England MedicineSARS-CoV-2 can be made of plastic for 72 hours, in stainless steel for 48 hours, in cardboard for 24 hours and in copper for 4 hours.
“Obviously, pet fur isn’t one of them [surfaces] they are testing, “Terio said. “There are a number of variables involved, but you have that assumption [the virus] can potentially last for a certain period of time – potentially one day or more on the surface. Once again, we don’t know the answer. “
In a statement sent by email, an AVMA spokeswoman wrote that while the virus can be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes, “this seems to be a secondary route. In addition, smooth, non-porous surfaces such as countertops and door handles transmit viruses better than porous materials; Because your pet’s hair is porous and also fibrous, it is very unlikely you will get COVID-19 by stroking or playing with your pet. However, it is always a good idea to practice good hygiene around animals, including washing hands before and after interacting with them. “
Although there is still much that is unknown, TIME experts spoke with agreeing that it is not possible for a pet to be infected with a virus or that a pet can transmit the virus to humans. But if you are sick, take extra precautions around your animal, because there is a small chance they can catch the virus from you.
“In this time of social isolation, pets are actually a great comfort for the mental health side,” Sander said. “If you don’t show any clinical signs, take advantage of having that mental support.”
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