A recently published study on cats in Wuhan, where the first known outbreak of COVID-19 began, shows that more cats may be infected with the disease than previously thought. Between January and March 2020, after the first outbreak, researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University in a Chinese city took blood samples from 102 cats. Also, swabs were taken from the nose and anus. The research results are published by Emerging Microbes & Infections magazine.
COVID-19 antibodies are present in 15 blood samples taken from cats. Of these, 11 cats had neutralizing antibodies – proteins that bind so well to the virus that they block infection.
None of the cats tested positive for COVID-19 and showed no obvious symptoms, and according to the results of return visits, none of these cats died.
The sample of cats studied included 46 abandoned cats from 3 animal shelters, 41 from 5 pet catteries, and 15 cats from families of patients with COVID-19.
All three cats with the highest antibody levels belonged to patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and there were also indications that the cats were infected with the virus from other cats that were abandoned or lived in pet hospitals.
Commenting on the findings, the study’s lead author Meiling Jin states that while there is currently no evidence of cat-to-human transmission of the virus, precautions should be taken.
While it is impossible to fully understand the infection of stray cats, it is reasonable to assume that these infections are likely caused by contact with an environment contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, or by COVID-19 patients who have fed cats. “Therefore, measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and pets such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should be established for these high-risk animals.”
The team evaluated in great detail the type of antibody response and was able to describe the dynamic characteristics of the detected antibodies.
Among the many antibody discoveries, they saw that the type of reaction that cats produce is similar to those seen with seasonal coronavirus infections, which means cats that have had SARS-CoV-2 infection “remain at risk of reinfection.”
The authors state that this is a similar transient antibody response that is also seen in humans and that their study should be used as a “reference for clinical treatment and prevention of COVID-19”.
“We suggest that cats have great potential as an animal model for evaluating the performance of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in humans,” they add.
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