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Explained: Can pets or stray animals spread coronavirus infection?

There was a lone case in Hong Kong where a pet dog tested positive. Experts think the dog’s “weak positive” was actually a case of human-to-animal transmission, and say dogs should be kept away from those suffering from COVID-19.

Written by Abantika Ghosh |
Updated: March 9, 2020 5:02:55 am
coronavirus, coronavirus in India, coronavirus in dogs, coronavirus infection, COVID-19, Express Explained, Indian Express In Hong Kong last week. (AP)

There is no evidence, either from the history of COVID-19 cases around the world or from the genetic evolution history of the virus itself, that there is any scope of pets (or even stray animals) contracting or transmitting the virus to humans. Here’s what the World Health Organization says on this: “At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”

There was a lone case in Hong Kong where a pet dog tested positive. Experts think the dog’s “weak positive” was actually a case of human-to-animal transmission, and say dogs should be kept away from those suffering from COVID-19. Following this case, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) came out with a statement. “The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare. The National Veterinary Services of Hong Kong reported to OIE evidence that a dog had tested positive to the COVID-19 virus following close exposure to its owners who were sick with COVID-19,” the statement said.

“… The dog was not showing any clinical signs of the disease. There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19 virus,” it said.

“What we know for certain now is that it is a zoonotic infection, that is it came from animals to humans. It seems that the intermediate source is the bat but our knowledge about the virus is evolving so this might change tomorrow. That is why what we are saying is that do not go near wild animals. There is not problem with pets and we are not advising staying away from them,” said Dr S Chatterjee, consultant, department of medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

For how long is the virus alive and active on an infected surface?

Normally for coronaviruses, at a temperature that is conducive for their survival, they can stay active/alive on an infected surface for up to nine hours, said top scientists at the National Centre for Disease Control. However in case of COVID-2019, the “novelty” of the virus means that we actually know very little about it. “See, generally for coronavirus on a hard surface, it stays alive for about nine hours; on a soft surface it may survive even longer. It also depends on the heat, temperature and humidity. But the longevity of viruses is very variable, some can live up to nine days. That is why whenever we suspect contamination we disinfect with sodium hypochlorite and close the place down for four to six hours. We do not ‘fumigate’, we disinfect,” said a senior official in the country’s apex disease control institute.

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