Tiger at Bronx Zoo Catches COVID-19
The cat was infected by a human. There’s no evidence cats will transmit coronavirus back to humans, but CDC urges caution with pets if you have COVID-19.
One or more tigers and other large cats at the Bronx Zoo in New York have contracted COVID-19 from a human caretaker who had the disease but who did not have symptoms, zoo officials announced today.
One Malayan tiger, a 4-year old female named Nadia, tested positive for the disease. “Her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover,” according to the Bronx Zoo statement, suggesting those cats, too, had COVID-19.
“Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms,” according to the statement. “Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats.”
It was thought possible
A recent study out of China indicates SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can spread to cats, while finding dogs are not likely susceptible.
“We found that SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks, but efficiently in ferrets and cats,” the researchers said. The study involved infections initiated in high doses in labs, however, and has yet to be formally peer-reviewed.
Commenting on that study, virologist Linda Saif of Ohio State University told Nature: “There is no direct evidence that the infected cats secreted enough coronavirus to pass it on to people,”
SARS-CoV-2 almost surely originated in bats, as have other coronaviruses that have made the jump to humans, scientists say. The main form of transmission for COVID-19 now is from humans to humans, however.
The cats are OK
“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” according to the Bronx Zoo statement. “It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”
The statement continued: “There is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people other than the initial event in the Wuhan market, and no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.”
“Coronaviruses that infect animals can sometimes be spread to people, but this is rare,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “CDC is aware of a very small number of pets outside the United States reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people with COVID-19. We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19.”
The CDC then links to this statement from the World Organization for Animal Health:
“Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a significant epidemiological role in this human disease. However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases), it is still recommended that people who are sick with COVID-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus.”
However, the CDC still recommends people who are sick avoid touching their pets, and be everyone in a household washes hands after touching them.
“If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people,” the agency advises. “Although there have been no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.”