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Two cats test positive for coronavirus in New York: Can pets transmit virus to humans? All you need to know!

Two cats have become the first pets in the United States to be tested positive for coronavirus.

Apr 23, 2020 12:07 IST
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Two cats tested positive for coronavirus in New York recently, becoming the first confirmed cases of pets getting infected by the virus in the United States. The US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the development on April 22, 2020. 

The cats were reportedly detected with symptoms of mild respiratory illnesses and they are expected to recover. They are thought to have contracted the virus from the people in their households or neighborhoods.

The two cats live in different parts of New York. While one cat’s owner tested positive for the virus before the cat showed symptoms, the other cat is from a household where none of the members are confirmed coronavirus cases. The cat though may have caught the virus from a member who was either asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic. 

The news comes a few weeks after a tiger tested positive for coronavirus in New York’s Bronx Zoo. The Malayan tiger named ‘Nadia’ reportedly caught the infection from the caretaker who was asymptomatic. The tiger was the first confirmed coronavirus case among animals in the United States. Following this, three other tigers and three lions tested positive at the zoo. 

Also read: Tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo gets Coronavirus, Indian zoos on alert

There have been few other confirmed cases of the transmission of the virus from humans to animals in other nations across the world. This raises concerns and questions on whether the animals are transmitting the virus to humans. 

Can animals transmit coronavirus to people?

According to US authorities, while some animals are contracting the virus from people, there’s no indication that animals are transmitting it to human beings. According to a CDC official who works on human-animal health connections, Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, “there’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.” The World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and other public health bodies also agree on this.

Scientists highlight that there is a difference between the infected and infectious. According to Jonathan Runstadler, a virologist, the virus may be able to infect tissues or cells in a host but they’re not able to complete the life cycle in terms of transmitting to a new host, these cases are commonly referred to as dead-end infections. J. Scott Weese, chief of infection control at Ontario Veterinary College said that dogs are likely to be dead-end hosts because the virus doesn’t appear to reproduce well in them. 

How to prevent pets from getting coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended pet owners to prevent their pets from interacting with other people or animals outside their homes and ensure that they are kept indoors, especially cats.

Can pets be tested for coronavirus?

COVID-19 test is not recommended for pets, according to Dr. Jane Rooney of the USDA, unless the pet has been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case and the animal shows symptoms of the virus. 

How many animals have been infected by coronavirus till now?

Besides the New York zoo animals and the two cats in the United States, a small number of pets have tested positive for coronavirus including two dogs and one cat in Hong Kong and one cat in Belgium.

What symptoms were detected in the COVID-19 infected animals?

While the cat in Belgium was sick, the dogs showed no signs of illness. The tiger Nadia along with other tigers and lions in New York’s Bronx zoo had developed dry coughs. The two cats in New York also showed mild symptoms. 

Can animals contract coronavirus from other animals?

In all the confirmed coronavirus cases among animals, the animals have presumably caught the coronavirus infection from humans and not other animals. The zoo animals were infected by their handler who was asymptomatic and the pets have reportedly got it from their owners. In other words, all the confirmed cases are cases of human-to-animal transmission. 

According to scientists, whether an animal can be infected depends on a receptor on certain cells that the virus needs to be able to “unlock” and some species fit better like primates including apes and monkeys. The primate experts are calling for extreme caution around the population of wild monkeys. In Africa and Asia, many species of monkeys share space with humans. 

What precautions can be taken by those who have pets?

According to J. Scott Wees, social distancing should be practiced at a household level and pets are members of the household. Animal experts suggest that while walking your pets, ensure that they are at least six feet away from other people and animals. On returning home, it is important to clean the paws and coat of the animal just like we clean ourselves and change our clothes. 

If the pet owner has symptoms, how should they deal with their pet?

If the pet owner is infected by coronavirus or shows mild symptoms then they should stay away from their pets and ask someone else to feed and take care of it. This reduces the risk of human-to-animal transmission of the virus. However, those who have no one else to look after their pets can continue to care for it. J. Scott Wees said that based on the current cases of coronavirus among animals, pets aren’t likely to get extremely sick even if they are infected by the virus. 

The CDC advises pet owners who are sick to wash their hands before and after they interact with their pets and to cover their face with a face mask. 

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