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In fact, infectious diseases expert Daniel Kuritzkes commented, "It's both interesting and not terribly surprising in the sense that with the original SARS epidemic, civet cats were implicated as one of the vectors that may have transmitted virus to humans". Kuritzkes is the Harriet Ryan Albee Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
As a corollary, he says, "What these data do provide is support for the recommendation that people who are with COVID-19 should be distancing themselves, not only from other household members but also from their household pets, so as not to transmit the virus to their pets, particularly to cats or other felines."
Ferrets were found to have the virus in the upper respiratory tract but showed no occurrence of severe disease. However, antibody tests conducted on dogs showed that they had very low susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, while virus-inoculated pigs, chickens, and ducks did not carry any strain of the virus. MERS Virus Particles Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus particles (yellow) attached to the surface of an infected VERO E6 cell (blue). Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID What does this mean to pet owners?
The researchers conclude by recommending ferrets as a candidate animal model for experimental vaccine testing, citing the efficient replication of SARS-CoV-2 in their upper respiratory tract. They also add that screening cats for infection should supplement efforts towards the elimination of the virus.
The WHO acknowledged the concern, with epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove stating that while pets may not play a role in transmission, there was always the possibility of a pet acquiring the virus from an infected human. The WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan warned against the mistreatment of animals in the wake of the public health emergency, describing them as "victims like the rest of us" who "deserve to be treated with kindness and respect." There is no evidence at present that cats can transmit the disease to humans, so keeping pet cats indoors with the owner during quarantine and observing the same measures for personal hygiene and social distancing would appear to be the sanest advice as of now. Journal reference:
Shi, J., Wen, Z., Zhong, G., et al. (2020). Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and different domestic animals to SARS-coronavirus-2. BioRxiv. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.30.015347 . https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.30.015347v1.abstract
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