A 32-year-old previously healthy female veterinarian contracted Covid after being exposed to an infected cat, according to the first documented case of suspected cat-to-human transmission. Researchers from the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand reported the case of the vet who was diagnosed with Covid after being sneezed on by a cat owned by an infected patient in August last year.
A genetic study supported the hypothesis of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from the owner to the cat, and then from the cat to the veterinarian, they wrote in the paper published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. The vet revealed that 5 days earlier, she and other veterinarians had examined a cat belonging to 2 men who were also Covid positive. The cat slept on the same bed as that of the infected men.
The initial examination declared the cat to be normal. But during the nasal test, which later proved the cat to be Covid positive, the feline sneezed in the face of the patient. Three days later the patient showed symptoms of the virus and later tested positive.
"The identical SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences obtained from the patient and the sequences derived from the cat and its two owners, together with the temporal overlapping of the animal and human infections, indicated that their infections were epidemiologically related," wrote Sarunyou Chusri and her team from the University's Faculty of Medicine.
"Because the vet had no prior meetings with the cat owners, she probably acquired SARS-CoV-2 from the cat when it sneezed in her face," they added. The study provides evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted from cats to humans.
However, experts stress that the risk of cats infecting humans with the virus remains low overall. On the contrary, people are far more likely to give the virus to cats, the New York Times reported.
"When things become human diseases, we too often forget everything else," Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious diseases veterinarian at the University of Guelph in Ontario was quoted as saying.
"I think it's important for us to recognise this virus still can move between species," Weese added.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who are infected with the virus avoid contact with their pets.
"If you're trying to stay away from people because you're potentially infectious, just try to stay away from animals at the same time," Weese said.