Cats may be infected with the new coronavirus, but dogs do not appear to be vulnerable, study published Wednesday urged WHO to say it will take a closer look at transmission of the virus between humans and pets .
The study, published on the journal Science website, found that ferrets can also be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the scientific term for the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.
However, the researchers found that dogs, chickens, pigs and ducks are not likely to get the virus.
The study aimed to identify animals vulnerable to the virus so that they can be used to test experimental vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 83,000 people worldwide since its appearance in China in December. .
SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have spread from bats to humans. With the exception of a few reported infections in cats and dogs, there is no strong evidence that pets can be carriers.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York who developed a dry cough and loss of appetite after contact with an infected caretaker tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday.
The study, based on research from China in January and February, found that cats and ferrets were very susceptible to the virus when researchers tried to infect animals by introducing virus particles through the nose.
They also discovered that cats can infect each other via respiratory droplets. The infected cats had a virus in the mouth, nose and small intestine. Kittens exposed to the virus had massive lesions in the lungs, nose and throat.
“Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in cats should be seen as a supplement to the elimination of COVID-19 in humans,” the authors wrote.
In ferrets, the virus was found in the upper respiratory tract but did not cause serious illness.
Antibody tests have shown that dogs are less likely to get the virus, while inoculated pigs, chickens and ducks have no strain of the virus.
“It is both interesting and not terribly surprising in the sense that with the original SARS epidemic, civets have been implicated as one of the vectors likely to have transmitted the virus to humans”, said Daniel Kuritzkes, manager of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. .
“What these data provide is support for the recommendation that people with COVID-19 should distance themselves, not only from other household members, but also from their pets, so as not to transmit the virus to their animals, especially cats or other felines, “he said.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that it is working with partners to take a closer look at the role of pets in the health crisis.
Based on the evidence available so far, WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said at a press conference: “We don’t think they play a role in transmission, but we think that ‘they can be infected by an infected person. “
WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan has asked people not to respond to animals during the epidemic.
“They are people in their own right and they deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. They are victims like all of us, ”he said.