Coronavirus: Cats at risk of COVID-19 infection but could fight pandemic, says study

A cat is seen on the shoulder of her owner during the Vietnam's first cat show in Hanoi, Vietnam February 16, 2020. REUTERS

Cats may have caught coronavirus at a higher rate than previously thought but successfully developed antibodies that protect them against the disease, a study released earlier this month found, suggesting that the animal could prove crucial in the fight against COVID-19.

The study, published in peer-reviewed journal Emerging microbes & Infections, detected COVID-19 antibodies in 15 of the 102 cats examined in Wuhan, the suspected site of the initial coronavirus outbreak.

Of the 15 cats with antibodies, 11 had antibodies that were successfully neutralizing and blocking the virus. None of the cats tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection, nor displayed any symptoms, and none have since died.

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“Our data demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 has infected cats in Wuhan during the outbreak and provided serum antibody dynamics in cats, providing an important reference for the clinical treatment and prevention of COVID-19,” the study’s authors wrote.

Cat success could help humans

The success of cats in fighting the coronavirus could help provide clues to researchers in how to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of over 900,000 worldwide.

The response of cat antibodies to the coronavirus was found to be relatively similar to humans, suggesting that cats could also be a useful study for scientists in understanding how to treat COVID-19 in humans.

“This similar transient antibody response has also been observed in human antibody, suggesting that cat has a great potential as an animal model for assessing the characteristic of antibody against SARS-CoV-2 in human,” the authors wrote.

The antibodies in the cats did not last however, with the authors adding that the risk of re-infection in cats is a real possibility.

Can cats infect humans with coronavirus?

The researchers stressed that there is no evidence thus far of cat-to-human transmission, but added that this does not mean people should remain complacent.

“At present, there is no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from cats to humans. However, a latest report shows that SARS-CoV-2 can transmit between cats via respiratory droplets. Over all, some preventive measures are necessary for blocking the human-to-cat transmission or preventing the potential transmission risk of cats to other animals or humans,” the authors wrote.

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The study also suggested that while evidence does not so far prove that cats can catch the coronavirus from humans, it remains a possibility.

“Although the infection in stray cats was not 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,” the authors said.

Previous studies have already suggested that pets are “much more likely” to catch the new coronavirus COVID-19 disease from humans than to infect their owners, a finding which this study supported to a certain degree.

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Last Update: Thursday, 10 September 2020 KSA 12:04 - GMT 09:04
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