Good Boy, Bad Luck: Gov’t confirms dog likely infected with coronavirus by owner

The local Pomeranian that experts believe to have contracted COVID-19 from its owner. Photo via Facebook.
The local Pomeranian that experts believe to have contracted COVID-19 from its owner. Photo via Facebook.

Authorities have confirmed that a dog belonging to a Jockey Club member who tested positive for the coronavirus may be the first-known case of human-to-animal transmission of COVID-19.

The dog was taken in by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department on Friday after its owner — known as case 85 — tested positive for the virus. An initial test found that the pooch had tested “weak positive” for the virus, with officials saying the dog would be quarantined and tested again to see if the positive was merely the result of environmental contamination of the dog’s mouth and nose.

In a statement published last night, however, the AFCD confirmed that the dog has tested positive in four separate tests carried out between Feb. 28 and March 2.

“Experts from 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 (OIE) have been 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,” the statement read.

An AFCD spokesperson reminded people that there’s currently no evidence that pets can be the source of COVID-19 infections or that they become sick from the virus, so people should not abandon their animals. That said, they also encouraged pet owners to wash their hands after being in contact with their pets.

Responding to the statement, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said that they were informed by AFCD that the dog is currently “healthy and in a good condition” at the quarantine center, and reminded people that “infected” is not the same as “infectious,” or “capable of transmitting COVID-19.”

香港愛護動物協會就漁護署於3月4日晚上發布有關狗隻已低程度感染2019冠狀病毒病之回應 (2020年3月4日,香港)…

Posted by SPCA (HK) 香港愛護動物協會 on Wednesday, March 4, 2020

While coronavirus infections in animals are still little understood, Raymond R.R. Rowland, a specialist in swine viruses at Kansas State University in the U.S., told the New York Times that similar “weak positives” often showed up among pigs.

But even in the event of a low-level infection, he said, “That doesn’t say the animal is sufficiently infected that it can spread the virus.”

Edward Dubovi, a Cornell University veterinary specialist who helped to discover canine influenza more than a decade ago, said a transmission from a human to a pet wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, and was usually not cause for concern.

“Usually, in those situations,” he said, “you have an initial infection and it doesn’t go anywhere else.”

Meanwhile, health officials have confirmed that the number of human cases reached 105 last night, with the latest case being a 69-year-old woman from Tai Hang, who visited India from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.

She developed diarrhea on the penultimate day of her trip, and developed a fever a few days later. Her husband and domestic worker are asymptomatic and have been put into quarantine.

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