More than 900,000 people across the planet have now died from COVID-19 since it was first detected back in January, with the rise showing no signs of stopping. While many of us have been observing social distancing measures, our feline friends may have not.
Now a new study has found that it may have proven costly to pet a cat in the street during the pandemic, with the research finding that more cats could contract and pass the virus on than previously thought.
Researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University, in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, took blood samples and nasal and anal swabs from 102 cats in the city between March and January.
According to the results published in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections, 15 of these cats had COVID-19 antibodies.
Of the 15, 11 had neutralising antibodies, which are proteins that are extremely successful at binding to and blocking the virus.
The 102 cats were a mix of stray, in a shelter, in a veterinary or owned by a family.
It is also important to note that none of the cats showed any symptoms, and none died.
The three cats with the highest levels of antibodies were all owned by someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Now, researchers believe humans may need to isolate from their pets if the person tests positive for coronavirus.
Lead author Meilin Jin said: “Although the infection in stray cats could not be fully understood, it is reasonable to speculate that these infections are probably due to the contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment, or COVID-19 patients who fed the cats.
“Therefore measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should also be established for those high-risk animals.
“Retrospective investigation confirmed that all of antibody positive samples were taken after the outbreak, suggesting that the infection of cats could be due to the virus transmission from humans to cats.
“Certainly, it is still needed to be verified via investigating the SARS-CoV-2 infections before this outbreak in a wide range of sampling.”
The team were also able to learn about the risk of reinfection.
According to the study, the antibodies in the cats showed the the type of reaction produced by the cats resembles those observed in seasonal coronavirus infections.
In other words, the cats were at risk of reinfection, which is likely to be similar for humans.
The study said: “We suggest that cats have a great potential as an animal model for assessing the characteristic of antibody against SARS-CoV-2 in humans.”