Cases of 2019-CoV, a “novel” coronavirus of which health officials knew very little, have ballooned this month, forcing Chinese authorities to quarantine the city of Wuhan. The disease started making rounds in late 2019 but has since spread through Chinese cities and into the world beyond, with infected people currently being treated in the UK and US.
Can pets carry and spread coronavirus?
Chinese authorities traced the 2019 coronavirus outbreak back to a seafood market in Wuhan, where many of the first infections were discovered.
Experts believe the virus was first present in the meat being sold at the market, which allowed it to cross the species barrier and infect humans.
Coronaviruses are common in animals, and most human viruses first originated in other species.
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Although the virus likely started its life in a sea-dwelling mammal, 2019-CoV is a human disease.
The virus mutated so it could specifically infect humans, meaning in its current form, it cannot infect animals once again.
Pets, therefore, cannot spread the new virus, but there are other forms of coronavirus animal lovers need to navigate.
The disease has achieved human-to-human transmission, meaning people can pass it between one another, but it cannot be passed back to animals.
Instead, animals have their own strains of the virus to worry about, some of which affect pets.
Scientists have documented several animal strains of coronavirus, including two forms of the disease in cats and dogs, and others in ferrets, mice, pigs and cows.
In animals, coronaviruses cause general discomfort and intestinal infection and is transmitted via oral contact with faecal matter or other bodily fluids.
While animals won’t spread 2019-CoV, there is a real possibility the infection may spread further afield as Chinese New Year approaches.
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The occasion, which this year lands on Saturday, January 25, will see thousands of Chinese citizens holiday abroad or travel through China to see their relatives.
Health officials and the Chinese government fear this will mean the virus becomes even tougher to contain, and they have cracked down on people living in the worst infected cities.
Currently, Wuhan and four other cities in China are on lockdown, and authorities have prohibited travel by bus, plane, boat and train or travel outside unless deemed absolutely necessary.
Leading Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-Yung, told CNN it would be “difficult” to prevent people travelling, however.
He said: “The Chinese new year is the most important festival for Chinese.
“And many of the mobile population, they’re coming from rural China to work in Wuhan, and now you ask them not to leave to see their relatives, that is difficult.”
He said it was necessary to prevent travel, as the case numbers will “continue to surge” without tight controls.
Professor Kwok-Yung added: “The mainland government policy now is that nobody should leave Wuhan and nobody should come into Wuhan.”
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