3 Cats Had the Virus. Then It Was 6

Scientists say none of the cats that had COVID-19 in lab experiment ever showed symptoms
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 14, 2020 8:20 AM CDT
Asymptomatic Cats Spread Virus to Other Cats
In this Friday file photo, the owner of a cat cafe checks the temperature of one of her cats in Bangkok, Thailand.   (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Cats can spread the coronavirus to other cats without any of them ever having symptoms, a lab experiment suggests. Scientists who led the work say it shows the need for more research into whether the virus can spread from people to cats to people again. Virus expert Peter Halfmann and his team at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine led the experiment and published results in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers took coronavirus from a human patient and infected three cats with it. Each cat was then housed with another cat free of infection. Within five days, the virus was found in all three of the newly exposed animals. None of the six cats ever showed symptoms. "There was no sneezing, no coughing, they never had a high body temperature or lost any weight," Halfmann says. "If a pet owner looked at them ... they wouldn't have noticed anything."

Health experts have downplayed the possibility of human-cat-human virus spread, per the AP. The American Veterinary Medical Association says in a new statement that just because an animal can be deliberately infected in a lab "does not mean that it will easily be infected with that same virus under natural conditions." CDC guidelines say that, based on the limited information available so far, the risk of pets spreading coronavirus to people "is considered to be low." Anyone concerned about any risk should use "common-sense hygiene," says Halfmann, who adds that his two cats sleep near him. Don't kiss your pets, and keep surfaces clean to cut the chances of picking up any virus an animal might shed, he notes. The AVMA adds to wash your hands before and after touching pets, and to keep pet food and water bowls clean.

(More cats stories.)

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