In the not-so-distant future, increasingly emergent domesticated or wild animal pathogen hosts/vectors will plausibly result in additional novel emergent diseases. Zoonotic or infectious disease caused by pathogens that jump from vertebrate animals to humans.
Emergent zoonotic disease can result from rapidly changing human demographics and behavior. For example, the lack of vaccination and hygiene increase the spread of disease. Shifting land use, deforestation, and climate change can also increase the number of animal pathogen hosts/vectors, as well as pathogen mutations (such as recombination of viral strains). Natural habitat loss pushes wildlife into suburban areas resulting in closer contact with humans and companion animals. Emergent diseases spread rapidly through global mobility of humans, animals, and commerce.
Previously effecting confined numbers of humans and/or animals, viruses now find susceptible hosts within a short period. Sometimes a pathogen becomes more virulent or better adapted to humans, or the pathogen may undergo changes that affect transmission patterns.
Although rare, the exact source of this virus is not well understood. Zoonotic COVID-19 is thought to have jumped from animals into humans. Additionally, it is thought first infections were linked to a live animal market. Late in 2019, COVID-19 was discovered in China — and as a result, 100,000 people in 80 countries were infected within 12 weeks.
A human within a 6-foot proximity to another human transmits and infects COVID-19 via droplets produced by talking, coughing and sneezing. Studies suggest infected humans without symptoms can spread COVID-19. Additionally, COVID-19 is demonstrated to remain persistent on fomites (objects or materials carrying infection) of copper for four hours, cardboard for 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for two to three days. The length of persistence may be related to viral load and ambient conditions, however.
THERE’S A PET AT THE ACCOUNT. SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
Candidly, it’s a very low risk. A study conducted in China suggested domestic cats can be infected with COVID-19 in the laboratory. Suggesting aerosol spread, high COVID-19 dose-infected cats spread the disease to nearby enclosed cats. That said, evidence suggests low risk for domestic cats as a source of human COVID-19 infection. It was further suggested that COVID-19 poorly infected dogs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now aware of a small number of companion animals being infected with COVID-19 — generally after close contact with infected people. Within the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that companion animals can serve as a source for human COVID-19 infection. The significance of how companion animals are affected by COVID-19, and any possible role in the spread of COVID-19, will continue to be studied.
Companion animal skin and fur/hair can become infested with parasites and infected with pathogens, but there is no evidence to suggest fomite transmission with either the pet itself or such pet care items as collars, leashes, ID tags, food or bowls. COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, inactivated by washing with soap and water. Companion animals can be bathed with products as recommended by a veterinarian.
Like humans, companion animals should be protected from COVID-19 infection whenever possible. If the customer asks you, suggest that they consult with their veterinarian if a companion animal develops illness or with questions regarding COVID-19. You can, however, advise customers on the following:
- Do not allow companion animal interactions with other people and their animals.
- Do not allow companion cats outdoors.
- Do not go to dog parks or public locations; avoid large gatherings.
- Do leash-walk dogs, maintaining at least a 6-foot distance from other people and their animals.
- Do clean up after companion animals.
- Do wash hands for 20 seconds after handling animals, food, waste or supplies.
If one is symptom-suspected, or tests positive for COVID-19, limit contact with companion animals. During illness, if possible, another inhabitant of the household should care for a companion animal — and if you are inside for a visit, make sure the pet is not near you or your equipment as you treat the home.
For you and your loved ones: If a person in your household either suspects or tests positive for COVID-19, he or she should limit contact with companion animals. If possible, another inhabitant of the household should care for a companion animal. In addition:
- Do not transport a companion animal to a veterinary clinic. Instead, ask the vet whether an online consultation is available. Let them know of your situation.
- Do not hold a companion animal or allow it to lick you.
- Do not share your food or sleeping area with the pet.
- If pet care must be provided during illness, wear a cloth face cover, and wash hands for 20 seconds before and after animal contact.
“Doc” Mitchell is not only a board-certified entomologist, but a veterinarian, a medical doctor and a doctor of psychology. He is also technical director for PestWest.