Low level of virus confirmed in pet dog of Covid-19 patient

March 05, 2020 13:31
A coronavirus patient in Hong Kong may have passed on the infection to her pet dog, it is being suggested, raising the possibility of human-to-animal transmission of the virus. Representational image: AFP

A pet dog in Hong Kong has repeatedly tested positive for low level of Covid-19, authorities said on Wednesday, throwing up the possibility that the city may have witnessed the first known case of a human-to-animal transmission of the novel coronavirus in the world.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said multiple tests on a Pomeranian owned by a 60-year-old coronavirus patient proved "weak positive" for the virus.

It was the first case of its kind amid the deadly Covid-19 outbreak, which began in China in December and has now spread to more than 50 countries around the world.

The infected dog, said to be 17 years old, belongs to a 60-year-old woman living in Tai Hang who became the 85th confirmed coronavirus patient on Feb. 25.

In a press release issued on Wednesday night, an AFCD spokesman revealed that the department first detected low levels of Covid-19 virus from the dog’s nasal and oral cavity samples on Feb. 27.

Later, authorities repeated the test on Feb. 28 and March 2 and got similar results, confirming "weak positive" for the Covid-19 virus.

Following consultations, experts from the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong and the World Organization for Animal Health have unanimously agreed that the results suggest that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission, the AFCD spokesman said.

The department, however, emphasized that there is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19 or that they become sick.

It called on pet owners to maintain good hygiene practices, but said citizens should not be overly concerned and that under no circumstances should they abandon their pets.

The dog, which has not shown any diseases related to Covid-19, is currently under quarantine at an animal keeping facility that serves the Hong Kong Port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

Another dog is also under quarantine in a separate room at the facility and it has tested negative for the virus, according to the Wednesday press release.

The AFCD said it has stepped up cleansing and disinfection of the facility.

Vanessa Barrs, chair professor of Companion Animal Health and Disease at the Department of Infectious Diseases and Public Health of the City University of Hong Kong, noted that during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, some dogs also showed low-level infection.

Judging from the experience during the SARS outbreak back then, there was no evidence that pets such as dogs and cats could transmit virus to humans, she said.

Calling the test results of the dog in question not surprising as its owner had been infected already, Barrs said pet dog keepers, after walking their animals, should use shampoo to bathe the animals, or use disinfection tissues to clean and brush the dogs’ hair and claws and later wipe with a clean cloth.

In related news, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said four more people tested positive in Hong Kong for Covid-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the city to 104 with one probable case, as of Wednesday.

Among the new confirmed cases, two had links with Fook Wai Ching She, a Buddhist temple in North Point that was associated with multiple infections earlier.

One of the patients is a 43-year-old man (the 102nd case) who is the person-in-charge of the temple and lives there alone. While he was asymptomatic all along, he had been sent to a quarantine center as a close contact, before his respiratory sample tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.

The man, who is now under treatment at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital and is in a stable condition, did not have recent travel history but had visited Emeishan City in Sichuan Province from Jan. 17 to 20, according to a government press release issued Wednesday night.

The other patient is a 57-year-old female domestic helper (the 103rd case), with good past health. The woman had not visited the North Point temple but her employer, the 76th confirmed patient who lives in Tai Tam, had.

The domestic helper is now under treatment at the Queen Mary Hospital and is in a stable condition, according to the press release.

Together with the other previously confirmed patients, the total number of Covid-19 infections linked to the North Point temple has increased to 18.

As for the other two new Covid-19 cases, one involved a 62-year-old woman (the 104th case), with good past health, who is the wife of a 63-year-old patient (the 101st case) confirmed on Monday. She is now under treatment at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital and is in a stable condition.

The other case was an imported one involving a 69-year-old woman with underlying illnesses who lives in Happy Valley.

The woman developed diarrhea since Feb. 23 while in India. After returning to Hong Kong from India, where she stayed from Jan. 31 to Feb. 24, she developed fever since Feb. 28 and consulted a Chinese medical practitioner twice, and her deep throat saliva specimen tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, according to the government press release.

She is now in a stable condition at the Ruttonjee Hospital. Her husband and domestic helper who live with her are asymptomatic and will be arranged for quarantine, the press release said.

As she took the flight CX694 by Cathay Pacific from New Delhi to Hong Kong and arrived on Feb. 24, passengers who took the same flight have been urged to get in touch with the CHP through the agency's hotline.

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