Thai research – cats can pass COVID-19 to humans and vice versa

Recent research undertaken by a team based at Prince of Songkhla University, in southern Thailand, has concluded that cat to human COVID-19 infection is possible, albeit very rare because infected cats do not shed virus for many days, like humans, according to Associate Professor Dr. Sarunyou Chusri, an expert on infectious diseases at the university’s Faculty of Medicine.

He disclosed yesterday (Monday) that the case the team studied was traced back to August 4th last year, when a 10-year-old domestic cat was living with its two owners in Bangkok, who were both infected with COVID-19.

Due to the shortage of hospital beds in the capital at the time, the owners travelled by car, with the cat, to Songkhla to get treatment at Songklanagarind Hospital on August 8th.  The veterinarian was afraid that the cat might be infected too and decided to test it on August 10th. The cat was infected. During the test, however, the cat sneezed in the vet’s face. The vet was wearing a face mask, but no face shield.

Three days later, the vet developed a high fever and runny nose and tested positive for COVID-19. Two of his assistants tested negative.

Several countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia have reported the occurrence of COVID-19 in various animal species, including minks, cats, dogs, lions, and tigers. Most of these infections primarily originated from humans and were transmitted to the animal (reverse zoonosis).

Genomic sequencing confirmed that the cat, its two owners and the veterinarian were infected with an identical version of the virus, the Delta variant, which was not widespread in the local population at the time, according to Dr. Sarunyou.

This would indicate that the virus had been passed from the cat to a human but, after testing the vet’s two assistants twice, with negative results, he said that the risk of cat to human transmission is low, unless humans are in close contact with the infected animal.

Nonetheless, he recommended that pet owners, who are infected with COVID-19, refrain from close contact with their pets to avoid spreading the disease to the animals.

The work on cat to human transmission by the Thai team was first published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States on June 6th and reported by the New York Times on June 10th.


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