Among the headlines from yesterday’s meetings of the newly-empowered government and the national security council, one that caught the eye was the announcement of a cat diagnosed with coronavirus caught from its owner.
The cat was reported to have caught the virus from close contact with its owner, who had recently returned from Italy. When the cat became ill, its stool was examined and traces of the virus discovered.
The experts were quick to reassure pet owners that the case was exceptional, that animals were not considered a vector for the disease, and that there was no reason to be afraid either for their pets or for themselves.
But one animal virologist has raised questions about the whole story.
Hans Nauwynck is a professor at the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Ghent, and a specialist in virology. The news of the corona cat took him by surprise.
“Before sending this news out into the world, I would have had some other tests carried out,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “When you hear about this right now, I wouldn’t wish to be a cat tomorrow.”
The discovery was made by the vet faculty at Liege university, who concluded the infection passed from human to cat and not the other way around.
“Look, I have no criticism of my colleagues at Liege university,” he stressed. “The diagnosis has been made, I’ve no doubt about the result, but we’re dealing here with a PCR test, a way of identifying genetic material of the virus.”
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test allows scientists to multiply a very small sample of genetic material to produce a quantity large enough to study.
“I’m simply questioning the interpretation of the results. The test is positive for corona, fine, but how was the test carried out? How was the sample taken, and can that result be trusted? I would advise people to slow down. There may somehow have been genetic material from the owner in the sample, and so the sample is contaminated.”
To be absolutely certain, he said, more tests should have been done to confirm the initial result, and certainly before making an announcement to the world.
“I think it’s too bad they didn’t look further,” he said. “There should also have been research carried out to see if the cat had produced antibodies. I’m worried that people will be scared by this news and animals will be the ones to suffer, and that’s not right. As scientists we ought to put out clear and full information, and I don’t think that has happened.”
In the latest update, the cat is doing well. Its owner is also recovering, albeit more slowly.