The Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is one of the seven types of coronaviruses so named because of the crown-like spikes on their surface when viewed under a microscope. The first cases of 2019-nCoV were reported in December 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The outbreak has already claimed the lives of 213 people as of the end of January 2020, infected thousands more, and spread to several countries.
Virus Passed Between Mammals
Human-to-human transmission of the virus has been confirmed, but a Chinese medical expert also claimed that even pets can catch the infection. In a report published by American weekly news magazine Newsweek, Chinese epidemiologist Li Lanjuan said that since the virus is being passed between mammals, it is important to keep pets under home quarantine as well. An epidemiologist is a public health professional who investigates the causes, patterns, and distribution of disease conditions in a population.
Lanjuan said in an interview with China Central Television, as translated by Newsweek, that if domesticated animals will go out and have contact with a person infected with the 2019-nCoV, they can also contract the virus. By that time, the pets have to be isolated. “We should be careful with other mammals, especially pets,” she added.
Pets As Potential Carriers of 2019-nCoV
Lanjuan, who is a professor at Zhejiang University and a part of the team fighting the Wuhan virus, advised that pet owners should monitor their pets closely. She did not, however, elaborate on how to tell if the pet is infected.
Currently, the World Health Organization clarified that there is no published evidence yet that proves companion animals such as dogs or cats can contract the virus. However, it emphasized the importance of good hygiene. The WHO said to always wash hands with water and soap if they have come in contact with pets to protect them against common bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria can pass between companion animals and humans.
The WHO added that although people of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus, people with existing medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, and the elderly are more susceptible. Good respiratory hygiene is also advised. To date, there is no particular medicine yet recommended by WHO to prevent or treat the 2019-nCoV. It is also not recommending the use of antibiotics as a means of prevention because it will not work against viruses. However, those infected may receive antibiotics as bacterial co-infection is possible.
The WHO also formally declared the 2019-nCoV as a “public health emergency of international concern” not because of what is happening in China but of its potential to spread to countries with weaker health systems.
Scientists Comment on Lanjuan’s Claim
Lanjuan’s claim still lacks evidence but other members of the scientific community don’t seem to completely disregard it. National Taiwan College of Veterinary Medicine’s professor Zhang Huiwen, for instance, explained that animals may also be infected by the coronavirus. This is because the virus is an RNA virus and it mutates quickly than the DNA virus. It is highly variable and adaptable within its host that may mutate in a way that will also infect pets.
A professor at the same school, Lai Xiusui, said that people should not worry too much about it affecting their pets because it has not yet been confirmed.
Canine Face Masks Demand Soar
Chinese dog owners are rushing to buy face masks for their pets too. Beijing-based retailer Zhou Tianxiao said that the sales of canine face masks skyrocketed 10 times more since the virus was detected. “Most [dogs] have started to wear [masks],” Tianxiao said via the Daily Mail, a British daily middle-market newspaper published in London in a tabloid format. He sells the protective devices for £5.4 (US$7.09) for a pack of three. The retailer started trading canine masks on the Chinese online shopping website Taobao in 2018 only to help dogs fight air pollution. He was not expecting the sales volume to soar from 150 masks per month to at least 50 pieces every day.
Tianxiao pointed out that the masks may not be as professional compared to the medical masks created for humans but they are just as functional. It can block out smog and prevent the dog from licking or eating food on the floor. Thus, it keeps them from being exposed to the Wuhan virus. Canines may not be willing to put the mask at first but prevention remains a priority over some discomfort that the pet may feel initially.
K9 Mask, the maker of dog air pollution filter masks in Texas, also said that sales of their $55 protective gear for dogs rose to 300% as customers in China, Australia, Japan, and United States have ordered them amid the coronavirus fears. Owner Kirby Holmes said via TV channel Fox Business that many customers have been calling their company and asking if the mask can help protect their pets against the Wuhan virus. They said that they cannot guarantee it 100% but the masks are designed with filters using the recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for humans to be protected against the bacteria.
CDC officials have also recommended people traveling to China to avoid both live and dead animals but they don’t think that any pet or animal in the US is a source of infection of the 2019-nCoV. “Until we know more, avoid contact with animals and wear a facemask if you must be around animals or care for a pet,” the CDC said.
On January 20 and 21, 2020 alone, more than 800 million masks for humans were sold in Taobao. British public service broadcaster BBC reported though that among the buyers may include profiteers, eyeing to resell the face masks for a higher price. The face masks market share worldwide in 2018, by region, are as follows: Asia Pacific Region held 52.46% of the global face mask market followed by Europe (31.97%), the Americas (13.06%), and MEA (2.51%), database company Statista shared.
As we cannot be sure whether pets can be infected or not simply because there is no confirmed case, people should take precautions and remain vigilant.