WUHAN, China — A new study out of “ground zero” for the coronavirus pandemic reveals troubling news for cat owners out there. Researchers in Wuhan, China say more cats may be COVID-positive than most assume right now. While the felines seem to be doing a good job fighting off the infection and remaining asymptomatic, they are at risk of re-infection.
Conducted at the Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, researchers collected blood samples (and nasal/anal swabs) from 102 local cats earlier this year as the coronavirus first emerged (January – March 2020). The cats came from a variety of places. Many (46) had already been abandoned by animal shelters, another 41 came from animal hospitals, and 15 were from people who had tested positive themselves.
Among all those cats, 15 showed the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in their blood. Of those 15 cats, 11 displayed actual neutralizing antibodies. That is, proteins which can successfully block the coronavirus from infecting a host (in this case, the cats).
‘Infections probably due to contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment’
It’s noteworthy that not a single cat tested positive for COVID, nor did any display obvious coronavirus symptoms. Also, according to periodic check-ins on the cats, none of the 102 examined felines have passed away as of today.
The three cats with the most antibodies had all come from an owner who tested positive for COVID-19, but the study’s authors say they’ve also found evidence that some examined cats were infected by other felines, not humans.
“Although the infection in stray cats could not be fully understood, it is reasonable to speculate that these infections are probably due to the contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment, or COVID-19 patients who fed the cats,” comments lead study author Meilin Jin in a release. “Therefore measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should also be established for those high-risk animals.”
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