New research suggests that cats may be ‘silent intermediate’ hosts of COVID-19 (Rosie Perper)
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New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday suggests that cats may be “silent intermediate hosts” of COVID-19, because they may not show symptoms that would be recognized by their owners.
The research looked at “limited airborne transmission” of the virus between cats that had been administered with the virus and other cats without the virus who lived in the same household.
Three cats with no previous COVID-19 infection were inoculated with the virus and were paired with three virus-free cats in order to monitor if the virus could be spread to the healthy cats by direct transmission. Researchers took nasal and rectal swab specimens from the cats daily to test for the virus.
The research found that within three days, the virus was detected in all the cats that were inoculated, and within eight days, all previously healthy cats had also tested positive for the virus. According to the report, virus shedding in the cats that were not inoculated lasted four to five days.
Notably, none of the six cats in the study showed any symptoms, including changes in body temperature, weight loss, or eye disease.
“There is a public health need to recognize and further investigate the potential chain of human-cat-human transmission,” the researchers wrote in the report.
Research conducted last month suggested that cats may be more susceptible to infection from the new coronavirus and may be able to spread it to other cats. Still, experts say most pets probably aren’t at risk, and there’s no evidence the virus can spread from pets to pet owners.
Still, there is some evidence that indicates that the new coronavirus may be able to spread from humans to felines.
Last month, the Bronx Zoo announced in a press statement that five of its tigers and three African lions tested positive for the new coronavirus after being infected “by a staff person who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture announced in a joint statement last month that the first confirmed cases of the virus in US pets were detected in two cats. The cats lived in separate households.
Notably, no human members of the household where one of the cats lived were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19.
“The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home,” the statement said.
The owner of the second cat tested positive for COVID-19 before the pet showed signs of illness.
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