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A dog in Hong Kong found to have traces of the coronavirus is thought to have picked it up from its owner.
The quarantined Pomeranian tested “weak positive” via nasal and oral-cavity samples taken on 27 February, 28 February and 2 March.
Experts have stressed there is “no evidence pet animals can be a source of infection”.
One noted “detecting the presence of the virus” is not the same as a “real infection”, with the dog showing no signs of ill health.
The coronavirus could have been “shed from human contact [and] ended up in the dog’s samples”.
The coronavirus strain Covid-19 emerged at a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan at the end of last year.
It has since spread globally to at least 60 countries, with more than 96,700 confirmed cases.
While mainland China has the bulk of the incidences, with over 80,400 patients, cases have been plateauing over the past few days.
Outside of China, South Korea has the most cases, with more than 6,000 patients and 35 deaths.
It is followed by Italy, with over 3,000 patients and 107 fatalities.
Out of at least 13,000 tests, 90 have come back positive in the UK.
One British man died after catching the coronavirus aboard the quarantined “hotbed” Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Globally, the death toll has exceeded 3,200.
While it may sound alarming, research suggests four out of five cases are mild, while more than 53,600 patients have “recovered”.
Can you catch the coronavirus Covid-19 from your pet?
The School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong, and the World Organisation for Animal Health “unanimously agreed” the dog “has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission”.
The Pomeranian belongs to a 60-year-old woman with confirmed Covid-19, Science Alert reported.
“There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19 or that they become sick,” said a spokesperson from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
The dog has “not shown any signs of disease related to Covid-19”.
In humans, the infection triggers flu-like fever, cough and breathlessness.
Severe cases can lead to pneumonia.
“We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of the virus,” said Professor Jonathan Ball from the University of Nottingham.
“I think it’s questionable how relevant [the dog case] is to the human outbreak as most of the global outbreak has been driven by human-to-human transmission.
“We need to find out more, but we don’t need to panic.
“I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels of the virus.
“The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”
Warning against “mass hysteria”, Professor Ball previously said: “The fact the test result was weakly positive would suggest this is environmental contamination or simply the presence of coronavirus shed from human contact that has ended up in the dog’s samples”.
The British Veterinary Association compared Covid-19 to fellow coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.
“We’re aware during the Sars outbreak a small number of cats and dogs tested positive for the virus”, said its president Daniella Dos Santos.
“These animals did not transmit the virus to other animals of the same species or to humans.
“We are particularly keen not to cause any unnecessary concern that could lead to pet abandonment.
“We would emphasise that at the moment, there remains no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19 for humans or other animals, or that they become sick.”
The dog, and another in quarantine that tested negative for the virus, will be swabbed again before being released.
Although experts have stressed this dog is unlikely a cause for concern, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department added animals coming from households with confirmed patients should still be quarantined.
Pet owners should also wash their hands before and after handling their furry friends, as well as their food and supplies.
The department is also urging the public not to kiss their pets.
“Apart from maintaining good hygiene practices, pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets,” said it’s spokesperson.
This comes as 10 Daily reported a veterinary clinic in Sydney is receiving calls from anxious members of the public asking it to euthanise their pets.
“If a pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet; call your vet practice for further advice,” said Dos Santos.
This mimics recommendations to call your GP surgery, rather than going to the clinic, to avoid spreading a potential infection in the waiting area.
What is the coronavirus Covid-19?
Covid-19 is one of seven strains of the coronavirus class that are known to infect humans.
Others include the common cold and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which killed 858 people during its 2012 outbreak.
Most of those who initially caught Covid-19 worked at, or visited, the “wet market” in Wuhan.
The main method of transmission is thought to be face-to-face via infected droplets coughed or sneezed out by a patient.
Pneumonia can come about when the infection causes the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.
The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream.
“Without treatment the end is inevitable,” said the charity Médecins Sans Frontières.
“Deaths occurs because of asphyxiation.”
Covid-19 is thought to have started in bats before “jumping” into humans, possibly via snakes or pangolins.
There is no specific treatment, with care being “supportive” while a patient’s immune system works to fight off the infection.