Researchers Report on First Cases of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Companion Animals in New York

On April 22, CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported cases of two domestic cats with confirmed infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). These are the first reported companion animals (including pets and service animals) with SARS-CoV-2 infection in the United States, and among the first findings of SARS-CoV-2 symptomatic companion animals reported worldwide.

As Newman, et al. (2020) report in MMWR, "These feline cases originated from separate households and were epidemiologically linked to suspected or confirmed human COVID-19 cases in their respective households. Notification of presumptive positive animal test results triggered a One Health* investigation by state and federal partners, who determined that no further transmission events to other animals or persons had occurred. Both cats fully recovered. Although there is currently no evidence that animals play a substantial role in spreading COVID-19, CDC advises persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to restrict contact with animals during their illness and to monitor any animals with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and separate them from other persons and animals at home. SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic coronavirus that likely originated in bats. A small number of animals worldwide, including dogs, cats, zoo tigers and lions, and farmed mink, have been infected naturally with SARS-CoV-2, mostly through suspected human-to-animal transmission. In addition, experimental studies in ferrets, golden Syrian hamsters, Egyptian fruit bats, and cats show that these species can transmit infection to co-housed animals of the same species."

The researchers add, "Currently, CDC and USDA recommend that epidemiologic information be collected before companion animal SARS-CoV-2 testing, and that the decision to test animals be coordinated with state public health veterinarians and state animal health officials using a One Health approach, to ensure that animal and public health responses occur in a timely and effective manner. Laboratory A’s passive surveillance program operated for a limited period to better understand the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on animals at risk for infection and did not divert resources necessary to conduct human SARS-CoV-2 testing, consistent with CDC and USDA guidance. Establishment of the U.S. One Health Federal Interagency COVID-19 Coordination Group (OHFICCG) in February 2020, and routine communication between state and federal One Health partners have been instrumental in ensuring a coordinated government response to the One Health aspects of COVID-19. This One Health coordination platform allows for collaboration and rapid information-sharing across sectors while also facilitating alignment of research, priorities, and messaging regarding the human, animal, and environmental aspects of COVID-19. Laboratory A, state partners, and members of OHFICCG coordinated information sharing during this investigation. Information from this investigation informed OHFICCG guidance development for managing SARS-CoV-2–infected animals, including guidance for when animals with positive test results should resume normal activities. This investigation provides further support for the utility of a One Health approach to addressing zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 to safeguard the health, welfare and safety of humans, animals and their shared environment."

Reference: Newman A, et al. First Reported Cases of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Companion Animals — New York, March–April 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vol. 69. June 8, 2020.

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