How could dogs make people sick?
Can dogs get infected with the coronavirus?
VDH: We are provided with so much information about the coronavirus around the clock every day, quite a few lose the overview and contradicting reports in the best case scenario cause confusion or increase people's fear of the pandemic. Coronaviruses play a major role in human and veterinary medicine and dog owners are wondering whether their four-legged friend can also become infected with them and whether the reverse infection - such as rabies, for example - is conceivable, i.e. an infected dog or one infected cat can infect humans?
Prof. Truyen: There are a multitude of coronaviruses in humans and animals that we have been living with for many years and decades. In dogs, two coronaviruses play a certain role as diarrhea pathogens, which can cause severe clinical pictures in puppies, especially when combined with parvoviruses, and a second coronavirus, which can mainly cause respiratory infections. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans is new. It was first described last year and likely originated from a bat virus. This virus, known as SARS-CoV2, causes a serious clinical picture in people, which in many cases can lead to death and it is spreading rapidly among people. This transmission from person to person takes place primarily via droplet infection and is extremely efficient, so that it is assumed that other transmission routes or other animals play no role or only a very small theoretical role in human infection. However, this may change as knowledge about the virus increases.
Experimental infections of dogs in China did not result in any infection or disease.
The dog seems to be very little susceptible to the virus, so that it can be assumed that it does not pose a risk of infection for humans despite close contacts.
It may be different with the cat. Infections in cats from COVID-19 patients who showed symptoms of the disease are described here. Big cats (tigers and lions) at the Bronx Zoo in New York City were likely infected by their zookeeper.
Experimental infections in cats resulted in symptoms of the disease and shedding of the virus and transmission to a contact cat.
Overall, however, there is no evidence that the virus was transmitted from dogs or cats to humans under natural conditions.
VDH: There are reports in the media of an infected dog in Hong Kong and reports of sick cats and ferrets also spread on social media, although it is often difficult to verify the facts. In which animal species has SARS-CoV-2 been found so far?
In total, only two dogs have been described worldwide in which the SARS-CoV2, or better part of the virus (nucleic acid), was detected. Both dogs lived in Hong Kong, which was badly hit by the pandemic. The first dog was a 17-year-old Pomeranian who lived with a COVID-19 patient and suffered from various diseases independent of SARS-CoV2. This dog reacted weakly positive in several tests, but infectious virus could never be detected in the dog. After two tests with negative results, the dog was able to leave the quarantine and came back to its owner, who had also survived the infection. Unfortunately, the dog died three days later of an illness that was in all likelihood independent of the SARS-CoV2 infection.
A second dog, also in Hong Kong, was a 2-year-old German Shepherd who showed no symptoms of the disease, but tested positive. It also belongs to a COVID-19 patient.
VDH: Now we want to finally get to the dog. Do dog owners have to worry about being infected by their companion? Even if it is only because the dog carries the virus without showing any signs of illness itself.
Prof. Truyen: As mentioned above, the dog seems to be very little susceptible to the virus and does not shed any virus. According to everything we know today, a dog does not pose a threat to humans.
The virus is relatively sensitive in the outside world and only remains infectious in the outside world for a few hours under natural conditions. A passive spread, as we see it with very stable viruses, such as the parvoviruses, does not play a role here.
VDH: How is it the other way around? What about a pet owner who tested positive? Can he infect his dog or cat?
The known cases in dogs and cats correspond exactly to this scenario. The infected person likely passed the virus to the dog or cat. As there are very few studies, it is largely unknown whether this occurs more often or only very rarely, as the animals usually show no symptoms (dog) or only mild symptoms (cat). Here the future will surely bring a clearer picture with the tests now available.
VDH: How should animal owners proceed who are affected themselves, who are in quarantine at home and who are dependent on help. So it is often friends or neighbors who then take the dog out. Are there any special rules of conduct when handing over the animal? Can the friendly helper become infected through contact with the animal?
Yes, here you have to be very attentive and careful. The virus can cause a fatal disease in humans. It is a very dangerous virus!
There is a high probability that the animals are not infected, but it cannot be ruled out and theoretically they could transmit the virus to humans or another animal. To date, animals have not been tested in order to provide full testing capacity for human patients. This will relax in the future, so that regular examination of these animals will be possible.
Compliance with the hygiene rules must be observed, especially when coming into contact with an infected person. Protective clothing such as gloves and face masks and, above all, maintaining a safe distance play a major role here. Careful and careful handling of the animals is also indicated; avoiding licking by the animal and thorough and regular hand washing after touching the animals are certainly sufficient to further minimize any risk. Regular cleaning of the leash and collar with soap and, if necessary, subsequent disinfection can be reassuring. Disinfection of the animal is in no way advisable and harms the animal more than it benefits!
VDH: Fortunately, most of the people here are still healthy. Do you have any recommendations for everyday life with your dog? We have all learned to wash our hands frequently and intensively. Should we also observe special hygiene measures for dogs? For example, when we come home from a walk?
Hand washing, hand washing and hand washing is the secret. The virus is unstable and has a shell that is quickly destroyed by soap and all common disinfectants. When the envelope is destroyed, the virus loses its infectivity. It is therefore practically impossible for the dog to introduce the virus into the household.
The interview was conducted by Udo Kopernik, board member of the VDH
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