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Pets could become reservoir of virus and reinfect human population – reports new study

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Scientists warn that there is a potential for pets to act as a reservoir for the SARS-COV-2 and reinfect the human population.

Research indicates that COVID-19 is common among pets who have contracted the disease.

A team of scientists from the Netherlands examined 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households for the coronavirus.

6 cats and 7 dogs (4.2%) returned positive PCR tests and 31 cats and 23 dogs (17.4%) found positive for COVID antibodies.

Scientists said pet owners who had COVID should avoid contact with their pets while infected.

Dr Els Broens, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said:

If you have COVID-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people.

The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health – they had no or mild symptoms of COVID-19 – but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population.

Fortunately, to date no pet-to-human transmission has been reported.

So, despite the rather high prevalence among pets from COVID-19 positive households in this study, it seems unlikely that pets play a role in the pandemic.

8 cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the pets that tested positive for the virus were also swabbed for a second time to check for virus transmission among pets.

None tested positive, suggesting the virus was not being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.

The research led by Dr Broens was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal.

Separate research, also presented to the ECCMID, suggests cats that sleep on their owner’s bed may be at particular risk of contracting the disease.

Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada, who presented the findings, said:

If you have COVID-19, I’d advise that you keep your distance from your pet – and keep it out of your bedroom.

She also suggested keeping coronavirus-infected animals away from other people and their pets.

Prof Bienzle said:

While the evidence that pets can pass the virus on to other pets is limited, it can’t be excluded.

Similarly, although pets have not been shown to pass the virus back to people, the possibility can’t be completely ruled out.

Commenting on the findings, Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said both studies are consistent with “a growing number of studies that are suggesting that a substantial proportion of pet cats and dogs may catch Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) from their owners”.

Cats and dogs may commonly be infected with the virus, but most reports are that this infection appears to be asymptomatic.

It also seems that the virus does not normally transmit from dogs and cats to either other animals or their owners.

These studies need to be differentiated from earlier work that has reported a very small number of individual cats and dogs to be unwell after they caught COVID-19 from their owners.

Image Credit: Getty

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