Researchers in Thailand have just described what is possibly the first suspected case of cat-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2. It happened in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Scientists point out that this is rare and that the risk is relatively low, but they consider it valuable to know so that, if you suspect that you have covid-19, you should also consider your closeness to your cat.
The transmission, described in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would have done so. Two men, father and son, were confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection by PCR and transferred to Prince of Songkla University hospital in Bangkok in early August 2021. The family cat, who slept with them , was sent to the university veterinary hospital for examination.
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A 32-year-old veterinarian treated the cat on August 10, 2021. She retrieved nasal and rectal swab samples from the cat while two other veterinarians held the cat. All three people were wearing disposable gloves and N95 respirator masks, but did not have face shields or eye goggles at the time. The entire meeting lasted 10 minutes.
During the checkup, the sedated cat sneezed in the first vet’s face. Three days later, this woman was already a symptomatic patient but she did not seek medical consultation until August 15, when she confirmed that the RT-PCR test results of the cat she had reviewed had been positive for COVID-19. She and her veterinary colleagues were admitted to isolation at the hospital.
The researchers note that no person with whom the veterinarian may have had contact before the cat was diagnosed with covid-19. They tracked down nearly 30 staff members working at the Veterinary Hospital and identified just one person who had the infection, but already had a fever a day before the cat’s arrival and had no contact with the vet.
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The scientists also analyzed viral RNA from the cat with viral RNA from the vet and a couple of her colleagues, finding they were identical. “Cats are known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially during close interactions with humans with symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections,” the researchers note.
That is, it is very likely that the men, father and son, first infected the cat with the infection. The animal then infected the vets through a sneeze in a brief but very close encounter. “Because the patient was wearing an N95 mask with no face shield or goggles, her exposed ocular surface was vulnerable to infection from droplets expelled by the cat. Infection from her signifies the possibility of ocular transmission and the importance of wearing goggles or face shields in addition to a mask during close-range interactions with high-risk humans or animals,” the authors note.
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The US CDC recommends that if you are sick with covid-19, you avoid contact with your pets and other animals, just as you would with people. Contact includes petting, cuddling, kissing, licking, sharing food, and sleeping in the same bed.