Animals and coronavirus may be beginning to have a close relationship in terms of disease transmission. Now the pets and the animals in general, becoming a possible source of transmission of the disease, although there are still no in-depth studies that show that they may indeed be a vector of contagion for people.
On March 27, 2020, a tigress from the Bronx Zoo in New York began coughing with a dry and persistent cough. The park had been closed since the 16th and, at first, nobody paid much attention to this cough, until the poor tiger started to lose her appetite. However, when her caretaker tested positive for coronavirus, all the alarms went off.
Nadia, which is the name of the 4-year-old Malayan tiger, has become the only animal in the United States to test positive for coronavirus so far. However, this is yet another case that raises questions about the role of animals in transmitting the virus.
After all, it is likely that, over the past few months, we have heard reports of infection in a dog in Hong Kong or a Belgian cat. However, the World Organisation for Animal Health has always maintained that these were isolated cases and that, with the information we have, “there was nothing to worry about“. Now that new research is beginning to emerge on this subject, it is a good time to reconsider whether this is still the case.
Animals and Coronavirus: all you need to know
An unpublished analysis by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute indicates that animals and coronavirus are related, and especially wild or domestic cats, which are more susceptible to being infected with the virus and transmitting this disease to other animals of the same species. This is also true for ferrets. However, the work considers it unlikely that dogs, chickens, pigs, or ducks would contract the virus and be able to spread it.
The team, led by virologist Zhigao Bu, inoculated several dozen animals that usually live with humans with SARS-CoV-2 virus and studied how the subjects’ viral loads evolved. Their data show that while the virus replicates poorly in dogs, chickens, pigs and ducks, it does so efficiently in ferrets and cats. However, only in cats has evidence of the virus been found in their respiratory tract.
The data are provisional, but this underpins the main ideas for understanding the dynamics of the virus in the animal world. “With SARS and MERS we have had similar situations,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergency Programme, speaking of sporadic pet infections. “The central question is whether animals are associated with the transmission of the disease.”
Are they vectors of the disease?
According to Ryan “the answer is no“. Indeed, the World Organization for Animal Health has been collecting all the reports of infected animals for months, and so far, everything seems to indicate that no domestic animal is capable of secreting enough of the virus to infect a human being through the respiratory tract. Not even cats.
In fact, even if they could transmit SARS-CoV-2, epidemiological records seem to make it clear that this is not happening and that it would be a very small vector of infection. In other words, it would be at a great distance from the main routes of transmission, which are basically from person to person.
What happens if we consume meat from an animal with the virus?
As we have seen, there is no indication that farm animals develop the disease or have high levels of the virus and, in any case, food safety measures would naturally limit the arrival of such meat on the market.
However, as we have said on other occasions, the truth is that heat denatures the virus and makes it lose its infective capacity; therefore, the problem would lie in the handling of the meat which, as always, should be done in a hygienic manner.
This does not mean that the proper safety measures should not be maintained. On the contrary, health authorities such as the American CDC not only recommend strict habits such as hand washing, keeping pets clean and consulting with the veterinarian, but also recommend protecting pets while their owner is sick to reduce the risk of them becoming infected.
After all, that we have no evidence and more at a time like this when all research resources are focused solely on humans, it’s best not to rule out any option as unlikely as it may seem.