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A team of scientists has identified two known cases of human-to-cat transmission of Covid-19 in the UK.
The study, led by the University of Glasgow and published on the Veterinary Record, conducted a coronavirus screening program for the cat population in the UK.
Human-to-cat SARS-CoV-2 transmission was found to have occurred in two cases from different households and between different breeds of cats.
The researchers said people showed mild symptoms before passing them on to their pets who had mild to severe respiratory problems.
However, there is no evidence that the transmission can work the other way around if humans can catch it from cats.
Professor Margaret Hosie of the University of Glasgow’s MRC Center for Virus Research, lead author of the study, said: “These two cases of human-to-animal transmission found in the UK cat population show why this is important. We are improving our understanding of the problem animal SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“Currently, human-to-human transmission poses a relatively low risk to public health in areas where human-to-human transmission remains high.
“However, as human cases decrease, the prospect of animal transmission as a potential source for the reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 in humans becomes increasingly important. It is therefore important to improve our understanding of whether exposed animals play a role could play in the broadcast. “
The first cat identified with Covid-19 was a four-month-old female Ragdoll kitten from a household in which the owner developed symptoms compatible with SARS-CoV-2 infection in late March 2020. However, the owner has not been tested.
The kitten was presented to his vet in April 2020 with difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, the cat’s condition worsened and it later had to be taken down.
Post-mortem lung samples later showed lung damage associated with viral pneumonia and there was evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The second cat was a six-year-old Siamese from a household where one owner tested positive for Covid-19. She was taken to the vet with nasal discharge and conjunctivitis, but these clinical symptoms remained mild and the cat later recovered.
Covid-19 infection was detected in the cat as part of a UK Covid-19 cat screening program and confirmed by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
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Researchers at CVR have completed full genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in Cat 2 and found that it is very similar to the viral genomes circulating in humans.
The researchers found no evidence of species adaptation in the cat’s viral sequences and concluded that mutations that were present in the cat 2 viral genome were likely also present in the owner’s virus, although the owner’s genome sequence was not available for comparison .
There is currently no evidence of cat-to-human transmission or that cats, dogs, or other pets play a role in the epidemiology of human SARS-CoV-2 infections. Whether cats with Covid-19 could naturally transmit the virus to other animals or back to humans is unknown.
However, scientists believe that these two known cases of human-to-cat transmission in the UK are likely to underestimate the true frequency of human-to-animal transmission as animal testing is limited.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, cats from Covid-19 households in Hong Kong, Belgium, the USA, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, Chile, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland and Latvia have tested positive for SARS-CoV -2 and it has been suggested that they were infected by their owners.
Naturally occurring SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in cats, non-domestic cats, and dogs. Scientists have also shown that ferrets and hamsters are susceptible.