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VANCOUVER – BC Center for Disease Control is looking for lower mainland cat owners recently infected with COVID-19 for a study of the transmission of the disease between humans and their pets.
Dr. Erin Fraser is the BCCDC’s health veterinarian and the study’s lead investigator. She told CTV News Vancouver researchers have examined 13 cats so far but are targeting 40 total for the purposes of the pilot study.
“We’re looking for cats in households with a COVID-infected person,” said Fraser. “And we really try to get them very early on after the individual is diagnosed.”
The research team is looking for active COVID-19 cases in cats, hoping to learn more about how and why the animals became infected and what could have been done to protect them from contracting the coronavirus.
Participating cat owners are asked to answer two short surveys of approx. 15 minutes each by telephone. They are also asked to put their cat in a carrier bag on their doorstep on two separate occasions so that researchers can collect samples without coming into contact with the cat owners.
At each visit, the researchers take a blood sample, a nose / mouth swab, and a rectal swab from the cat. The two visits take place within 10 days.
“We are developing risk management guidelines for both pets and humans in particular, as there are a number of diseases that can be transmitted from pets to humans and, in this situation, from humans to pets,” said Fraser.
She noted that there is no evidence that cats transmit the virus to humans, but said they can pass it on to other cats and “shed” the virus like humans.
“We also do a sequencing of the entire genome of the viruses that we recognize to see if there is any change in the virus or any early signs of it,” said Fraser.
So far, three of the 13 cats tested were infected with the virus.
“It’s actually more than I thought we’d see,” she said.
Fraser said she was interested in conducting a future study on a larger sample of cats with owners who have contracted COVID-19 to try to determine the frequency of transmission from humans to cats. She is also interested in looking into coronavirus cases in dogs in future research.
One reason for doing a small pilot study is to keep the group’s research questions focused for the future, she said.
“All of this is new and we’re always learning, so our questions at this point are very broad,” said Fraser. “So it also helps us to say, ‘Okay, what do we need to take a closer look at next? What’s next?'”
Those interested in participating in the study must not only live on the lower mainland, but must be at least 18 years old, have at least one cat, and have tested positive for the coronavirus within the last seven days.
Fraser said the tight schedule made it a little difficult to recruit cats for the study, but in some ways that’s a good problem.
“Given that our case numbers are falling, which is wonderful news, it will likely stretch through the summer before we get our (cat) case numbers that we are looking for,” she said.
For more information about the study, including how to participate if you have a cat and recently tested positive for COVID-19, please visit the BCCDC website.