Pet dog with coronavirus a likely case of ‘human-to-animal transmission’ in Hong Kong

TORONTO — Hong Kong officials say pet owners shouldn’t panic, but should nevertheless avoid kissing their companion animals after a dog tested “weak positive” for the novel coronavirus.

In a statement from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), officials said that after collecting samples from a pet dog on February 26, they did multiple tests over the next few days. The results showed the same thing every time: a weak positive result for the virus.

Medical experts across Hong Kong as well as the World Organization for Animal Health were consulted, and “unanimously agreed that these results suggest that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission.”

This could be the first confirmed case of a human-to-animal infection with the new strain of coronavirus, which first started making headlines in late December. COVID-19, as it is officially known, has racked up over 96,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with more than 3,000 deaths.

The AFCD stated that, while proper hygiene practices should be observed before and after handling animals, “there is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they become sick.”

The hygiene practices they listed included “hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them.”

The AFCD statement clarified that the dog in question was not displaying any symptoms of being ill, and is currently under quarantine. Another dog is in quarantine at the same facility, but tested negative for COVID-19. According to the statement, the second dog will go under more tests to confirm the negative reading before being returned to its owner.

“People who are sick should restrict contacting animals,” the statement said. “Apart from maintaining good hygiene practices, pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets.”

The Hong Kong SPCA issued a statement on Facebook in response to the news, reminding the public that the dog is “currently very healthy,” and that there is no need for panic.

“Members of the public are advised to differentiate that ‘being infected’ does not equal being infectious and capable of spreading the COVID-19 virus,” they wrote. “We wish to remind the public that there is no evidence that companion animals can transmit the disease to humans.”

Researcher Scott Weese told in February that “the risks are really low,” to domestic animals, and that measures such as putting a mask on your dog will not be effective.

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