More cats might be COVID-19 positive than first believed after study finds up to 15 per cent of pets in Wuhan ‘caught the coronavirus from humans’
- Researchers took samples from 102 cats in Wuhan after COVID emerged
- Found antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in 15 of the felines, none had symptoms
- Researchers think all cats, either strays or pets, caught the virus from humans
- They encourage COVID-19 patients to be cautious around their pets and implement preventive measures such as distancing and quarantine
Between ten and 15 per cent of cats tested for coronavirus in Wuhan — ground-zero for the Covid-19 pandemic — had caught the disease, according to a new study.
The findings comes as researchers try and work out what risk the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes Covid-19 as well as the hyperinflammatory condition MIS-C in children, poses to pets.
Blood samples taken from more than 100 felines between January and March in the Chinese city reveal the pets likely caught the virus from humans.
Researchers advise that Covid-19 patients should quarantine themselves away from their companion animals, such as cats and dogs, to prevent spreading the disease.
None of the cats that were infected with SARS-CoV-2 in this study showed symptoms, but it is believed the virus can be deadly to pets.
According to public records in the US, there are only 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pet cats.
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Between ten and 15 per cent of cats tested in a Wuhan study — ground-zero for the Covid-19 pandemic — caught the coronavirus. The findings comes as researchers try and find what risk the SARS-CoV-2 coronaviru poses to pets (stock)
But the latest findings out of Wuhan, by researchers at Huazhong Agricultural University, indicate the level of infection in companion animals is likely much higher.
Researchers took blood samples from 141 cats in total – 102 after the COVID-19 outbreak and 39 prior to the disease emerging, for comparison.
Of the 102 that had blood taken, as well as anal and nasal swabs, 46 cats came from three animal shelters, 41 were from five pet hospitals, and 15 were from a household where at least one member of the family was known to have Covid-19.
COVID-19 antibodies were found in 15 (14.7 per cent) cats and 11 (10.8 per cent) had SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies.
The three cats with the most antibodies to the virus were owned by a human who had Covid-19, the scientist reveal.
Like other studies looking at transmission of the coronavirus from one species to another, this paper is observational and is therefore unable to conclusively prove that cats infect humans, or vice-versa.
A pet cat has become the first animal in the UK to be diagnosed with Covid-19, it was revealed today.
Officials in believe the cat — which wasn’t identified but lived in England — caught the coronavirus from its owners and ‘not the other way round’.
Downing Street said the feline suffered from nasal discharge and some shortness of breath, a symptom that also strikes humans.
Both the cat and its owners have made a full recovery and there was no transmission of the virus to other animals or people in the household, health bosses said.
Experts have today warned Britons with the virus to avoid cuddling their pets or keep them indoors to cut the risk of spreading germs.
However, the researchers point to a piece of research published last week, which found SARS-CoV-2 can transmit between cats via respiratory droplets.
They say more research is needed to find out if this mechanism spreads the virus between species.
But when the researchers interpreted the data, they found enough cause for concern to encourage pet owners to be careful.
Lead author Meilin Jin says: ‘Measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should also be established for those high-risk animals.’
While the source of infection for pet cats was obvious, understanding how four abandoned cats and four felines in animal hospitals had antibodies was more difficult.
The researchers believe the cats caught it from infected humans, but this was sporadic and potentially occurred long before sample collection.
‘Although the infection in stray cats was not fully understood, it is reasonable to speculate that these infections are probably due to the contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment, or COVID-19 patients who fed the cats,’ the researchers write in their paper, published in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections.
The antibodies found in the cats are short lived and are similar to how humans respond after catching the common cold coronaviruses.
While it allows the animal to fight off the viral infection, it leaves them exposed to re-infection.
Due t the similarity in how cats and humans respond to infection with these viruses, the researchers also say studying SARS-CoV-2 in cats could help understand more about the human immune response to infection.
‘We suggest that cats have a great potential as an animal model for assessing the characteristic of antibody against SARS-CoV-2 in humans,’ they add.
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