Covid-19: How humans pass the virus to their cats

Covid-19: How humans pass the virus to their cats
© Manja Vitolic for Unsplash

Scientists need to understand better the transmission of Covid-19 from humans to their pets, to prevent animal infections from becoming a ‘viral reservoir’ which could strike back later in a more virulent form, according to researchers from the University of Glasgow.

In a census of the feline population of the UK, the scientists from the university’s Centre for Virus Research found two cases of cats that had been infected with Covid-19 by their owners.

The cats were not severely affected and had developed mild respiratory symptoms after their owners had themselves been infected. No other route of infection was considered possible.

That established the existence of human-to-feline transmission. There remains no evidence of feline-to-human transmission.

However, the study points out that once cats have become infected, it is only reasonable to assume cats can infect each other – since that is what viruses do so successfully.

And if cats become what the paper calls a ‘viral reservoir, the possibility exists that a mutation – something else that viruses do very successfully – could one day allow the cat-variant, so to speak, to escape from the reservoir and come back to visit the human population that gave it its origin.

After all, scientists agree that the virus that causes Covid-19, a pandemic that has so far had the world in its clutches for more than a year, initially crossed from animal to human.

“These findings indicate that human-to-cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, with the infected cats displaying mild or severe respiratory disease,” said lead author Margaret Hosie, of the Centre for Virus Research in a statement.

Given the ability of the coronavirus to infect companion animals, it will be important to monitor for human-to-cat, cat-to-cat and cat-to-human transmission,” she said.

“Currently, animal-to-human transmission represents a relatively low risk to public health in areas where human-to-human transmission remains high. However, as human cases decrease, the prospect of transmission among animals becomes increasingly important as a potential source of Sars-CoV-2 reintroduction to humans. It is therefore important to improve our understanding of whether exposed animals could play any role in transmission.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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