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The novel virus responsible for the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been shown to primarily infect humans. However, the virus has also been detected in several animals such as ferrets, mink, wild cats, and domestic dogs and cats.
Cats and minks are considered to be the most susceptible species because their angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor is very similar to that of humans. Although most infected cats are asymptomatic, some can develop disease and even transmit the virus to other animals.
Thus, SARS-CoV-2 can have a direct impact on animal health and there is a possibility that cats could become zoonotic reservoirs of the virus. While it was found in humans that neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 correlate inversely with the severity of the disease, the reported prevalence of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in cats varies from 0.2% in Brazil to 0.002% in Germany 5.8% in Italy and 10.8% in Wuhan, China.
Determination of the presence of neutralizing antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 in domestic cats in Peru
Although Peru is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, no studies have been conducted to examine SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in domestic cats. Recently, researchers from Peru demonstrated the presence of neutralizing antibodies for the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in cats in Lima, Peru. The owners of the cats in the study had confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. This study was published as a preprint on the bioRxiv * server.
The samples were taken from a serum bank. The mean age of the cats was 12 months and 53.7% (22/41) of the cats were female. The researchers used a commercial competitive ELISA SARS-CoV-2 surrogate virus neutralization test.
Few case studies of natural infection in cats document serious clinical results and those that have shown comorbidities likely contributed to disease or death. “
The results show that SARS-CoV-2 infection in cats is not homogeneous and is associated with other health factors
Of a total of 41 samples, 17.1% (7/41) with the cut-off inhibition value of 30% and 31.7% (13/41) with the cut-off inhibition value of 20% were positive. All cats that lived in the same house had no detectable levels of neutralizing antibodies. This shows that the infection exposure is not homogeneous. The presence of antibodies could be linked to many other factors, including immunity, health status, and proximity to the infected owners.
The results of the study provide compelling evidence of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in domestic cats in Peru. When compared to previously published studies from Italy and Wuhan, China, in which 5.8% of 191 cats and 10.8% of 102 cats had neutralizing antibodies, the percent seropositivity in this Peruvian cat population was high. However, the studies carried out on cats from Italy and China were not exclusively carried out on a pet population living with owners infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Our results show compelling evidence of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in domestic cats and it is the first report of such an event in Peru. “
The results suggest that cats can serve as custodians for the undetected transmission of SARS-COV-2 in the community
According to the authors, this is the first report of SARS-COV-2 exposure in domestic cats in Lima, Peru. They added that it is very important to monitor SARS-CoV-2 exposure and infection in pets with the help of fast and affordable serological and molecular tests available to veterinarians from low-income communities.
Although serum neutralization activity is normally tested using plaque reduction neutralization tests, the commercial test used in this study shows a high correlation with serum neutralization activity using plaque reduction. It also offers logistical and biosafety benefits for researchers working with limited resources.
Cats can act as custodians for the undetected transmission of SARS-COV-2 communities, and in such a scenario, veterinarians can play the role of first responder. The authors believe that a limited sample size and convenience sample do not allow for a prevalence estimate. Therefore, more studies are needed to determine the prevalence of SARS-COV-2 exposure in domestic cats in Lima, Peru.
Cats have the potential to serve as watchdogs for undetected community transmission, and in this scenario veterinarians play a key role as first responders. “
bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and therefore are not considered conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or should be treated as established information.