Can pets transmit coronavirus to humans? No evidence so far, say experts

Can pets transmit coronavirus to humans? No evidence so far, say experts thumbnail
Experts say canine coronavirus is different from COVID-19, which is spreading now. And unlike COVID-19, the canine coronavirus has a vaccine for animals.Even as more than 110,000 people across the world have been infected by the coronavirus, experts have reassured that it is very unlikely that pet animals can carry or transmit the virus to…

Experts say canine coronavirus is different from COVID-19, which is spreading now. And unlike COVID-19, the canine coronavirus has a vaccine for animals.

Even as more than 110,000 people across the world have been infected by the coronavirus, experts have reassured that it is very unlikely that pet animals can carry or transmit the virus to their owners. The need for reassurance comes after few media reports about a cat being sent back from Chennai to China over fears of transmitting the virus.

Speaking to TNM about the possibility of human beings contracting the virus SARS-CoV-2 from their pets, Dr Pawan Kumar, a veterinarian from the Cessna Lifeline Veterinary Hospital says that COVID-19 is human-specific. “Canine coronavirus is different from COVID-19 which is spreading now. Canine coronavirus is usually treated using medicines and there is a vaccine that can be administered to animals,” he explains.

Coronavirus is spread only through interaction between human beings, he points out. “As per the available research and literature, this virus doesn’t spread between human beings and animals and hence there is no reason to worry or be concerned,” he adds. However, he also cautions people from interacting with the pets whose owners have been tested positive for novel coronavirus.

“Sometimes the pets and the owners cuddle and express affection and thus the virus gets into the animal through saliva. Then when the said pet licks another human being, there is a chance of the virus being transmitted. But this scenario is highly unlikely,” he adds.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, in its website, has detailed advisory on how to take care of animals amidst the novel coronavirus scare. “At this time, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) say there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, spread COVID-19,” the website says.

Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department also stated that there is no evidence to suggest that pet cats and dogs can transmit the virus to humans. However, researchers observed that pets can test positive for low levels of the pathogen, with humans being able to pass it on to them. A dog in Hong Kong had tested weak positive for the coronavirus a few weeks ago. However, experts have agreed that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is “likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission”.

So, how then did the virus spread from the animal market in Wuhan, China, which is considered the epicentre of the outbreak?

The WHO says research suggests that there is a link between SARS-CoV-2 and bats, with experts suspecting that bats may have transmitted the virus to an intermediary host animal. The intermediary host, which is yet to be identified by experts, in turn passed on the coronavirus to humans. Some researchers suspect that pangolin, a scaly mammal which is illegally traded in China, may be the intermediary host that transmitted the coronavirus to humans.   

“The reason whatever happened in Wuhan was because of multiple reasons. There is an interaction between agent, host and environment. It is multifactorial,” explains Padma Srikanth, a Chennai-based Medical Microbiologist.

With coronaviruses being zoonotic, this process of infectious organisms jumping from an animal host to human beings is called ‘spillover’. Scientists have also stated that spillovers of diseases are bound to happen when human beings and animals are made to interact closely for economic development.

Stressing the need to maintain hygiene by washing hands frequently, Padma Srikanth says that it is not necessary to use hand sanitisers to keep the hands clean. “Normal soap and water will do just fine,” she adds.

While Chennai airport confirmed to TNM that no directive has been received in relation to the handling of pet animals in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Chennai Port Trust told TNM on Tuesday that it has completely closed the entry of passengers and animals into the port, as part of precautionary measures against COVID-19. 

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