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article imageCan the novel coronavirus be transmitted on animal fur?

By Tim Sandle     May 31, 2020 in Science
While there exists a possibility that household pets can become infected with coronavirus (albeit a low one), to what extent can pet fur or skin be a transmission route for viral infection to a human?
Much of the recent media attention in relation to animals and the novel coronavirus has been with if the animal can catch coronavirus and then whether the animal is capable of transmitting the virus to a person. This is an important consideration, given the zoonotic origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Can pets become infected with the novel coronavirus?
There is variable susceptibility observed in different species and this topic has been especially focused on farm animals and household pets. The U.S. CDC states, based on current data: "there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19."
A cat called Gizmo spots something of interest.
A cat called Gizmo spots something of interest.
One study found:
High susceptibility of cats, ferrets, and hamsters.
Dogs, mice, rats, pigs, and chickens are refractory to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The red squirrel is also susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Furthermore, a study of 12 dogs and nine cats living in close contact with 20 veterinary students (including 2 confirmed and 11 suspected COVID-19 patients), all animals were negative for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (published in the Systematic Reviews for Animals and Food) . Another study found cats may act as asymptomatic dispersers of SARS-CoV-2, although viral transmission from animals to humans seems unlikely. These findings support the CDC advice.
Transmission from animal fur
One area that has received less attention is the role of an animal as a carrier, especially with the question of whether coronavirus can be carried on animal fur for a prolonged period of time (to the extent that the viral RNA remains infectious)? In other words, can animal fur act as a fomite? Theoretically animals living with COVID-19 patients will most probably have some of this virus on their skin or coat and it is possible that virus can be transmitted to a person if they handle the animal.
A Transylvanian Dog
A Transylvanian Dog
A review of academic search engines reveals that very little has been written in terms of animal fur or skin transmission, for the COVID-19 coronavirus. There is literature on other coronaviruses (an array of enveloped positive stranded RNA viruses) in relation to mice, chickens, cats, dogs, pigs and cows; but few of these have made a species jump and they are not necessarily infectious to other creatures, including humans.
The only main study conducted in relation to animal skin is one that shows how SARS-CoV (the original SARS virus from 2003, which is 79 percent genetically similar to SARAS-CoV-2) can survive on room temperature pig skin and pig feces for over 24 hours (as shown by PCR testing, which detects a virus' genetic material).
A microscopic view of the MERS coronavirus  which is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible co...
A microscopic view of the MERS coronavirus, which is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people
, British Health Protection Agency/AFP/File
In summary, the potential for viral RNA to survive on animal fur or skin for a short period of times exists theoretically; but there is no evidence that animals that become infected are more likely to transfer contamination than an animal that has been touched by an infected person. Where the virus is transmitted to animal fur or skin, the survival time can be considered to be around one day. It is likely that more research in this area will emerge.
Best advice
Meanwhile, returning to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following advice is pertinent:
Always wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies.
Do not let your pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
Walk dogs on a lead, maintaining at least 2 meters from other people and animals.
Avoid going to dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
File photo of soap and water
File photo of soap and water
Information relating to the novel coronavirus changes regularly; it remains important to continually check government health websites for the latest updates.
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