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(Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Furry companions, especially dogs and cats, are in close contact with us humans because they live in the same environment. While we constantly resent public health concerns about living with domesticated animals in the home and in public spaces, people don’t think about the other side – exposing stray cats and dogs to human pathogens – particularly the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
In a study recently published in the journal PLOS One, Flavia Barreto dos Santos of the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz and colleagues explained how they discovered Covid-19 antibodies in a stray cat and dog in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – suggesting the potential indicates susceptibility of stray animals during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is estimated that there are around 78.1 million dogs and cats as pets in Brazil. Of these, around 5 percent are animals under endangered conditions. Brazil also has the highest number of cases and deaths in Latin America.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health reported the first human-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country on February 26, 2020. About 5.5 million cases and more than 159,000 deaths had been reported in the country by the end of October.
The southeastern region of the country is the most populous area in the country and concentrates the greatest number of Covid-19 cases. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the hardest hit cities. Despite the highest number of Covid-19 cases in South America, pet exposure to SARS-CoV-2 has been poorly studied in Brazil, the researchers observed.
Both cats and dogs can be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in three main ways:
1) contact with other infected animals
2) contact with infected people
3) exposure to a contaminated environment
SARS-CoV-2-RNA has already been detected on public surfaces and in the sewer system in major Brazilian cities, suggesting that these environments can be a potential source of infection.
In Wuhan, China, cats sampled between January and March 2020 were seen to have a high seroprevalence for SARS-CoV-2 or the coronavirus, mainly due to the high levels of virus transmission during this period.
However, transmission events between humans and animals are not limited to pets. Several large cats at the Bronx Zoo in New York, USA developed symptoms of respiratory disease and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. A zoo employee who actively released viruses was discovered to be the source of the infection. Despite these results, reverse transmission, ie from pets to humans, has never been demonstrated. To date, only one episode of likely direct animal-to-human transmission has been reported, relating to an outbreak of respiratory disease in farmed mink in the Netherlands.
For this study, researchers collected samples from 96 animals, including 49 cats (40 owned and 9 stray) and 47 dogs (42 owned and 5 stray) between June and August, when the epidemic caused about 100,000 human-confirmed cases of COVID- 19 reached in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Around 75 percent of pets belonged to homes with no Covid-19 cases. While all anal and nasal swabs tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 RNA after RT-PCR tests, the serum samples from a stray cat and a stray dog showed neutralizing antibodies for the virus.
“The inclusion of stray animals has revealed an important aspect of SARS-CoV-2 monitoring in urban centers and can be viewed as an indicator of pollution,” the researchers wrote.
“For this reason, the investigation of SARS-CoV-2 in animal populations with a one-health approach is necessary and should be promoted. It is important to emphasize that based on current data, COVID-19 patients must follow preventive measures for social isolation and pets such as cats and dogs should be included in such care, ”concluded the authors.
Limitations of the study include the lack of sampling in other areas of the city and the lack of other coronaviruses.