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With first reported human-to-animal COVID-19 transmission in U.S., here’s what you need to know if you have pets

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Posted at 8:10 PM, Apr 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-05 23:59:43-04

CLEVELAND — The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, marking the first instance of an animal in America being infected with COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated for weeks that while it had no reason at the time to think that any animals, including pets, might be a source of infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, it was still learning about the virus.

“You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the new coronavirus,” the CDC advised on its website.

The case of the tiger contracting COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo is the first of its kind, according to the USDA.

“This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted,” the USDA said.

When the CDC reported that it had no reason to believe people could transmit COVID-19 to their pets and other animals, it’s because they had not documented any cases in this country. No case had been reported in the United States of an animal contracting COVID-19 from a human, although the CDC said it was aware of a small number of pets outside of the country that had been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people with COVID-19.

The USDA and CDC are not recommending routine testing of animals for COVID-19 at this time, as the situation is still evolving, but there are things you should know moving forward through the pandemic.

What to do if you think your pet or animal may have COVID-19
Tell the veterinarian before going to the facility if your animal was exposed to a person with COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of respiratory illness. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will then contact state officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide if testing and samples are needed, according to the USDA.

How to handle animals if you’re sick
Testing for COVID-19 is limited, so many people may not know if they have the virus or not. If you are unsure, you should still take caution by washing and sanitizing your hands before interacting with your pet or animal. Limit the amount of contact with your pet or animal if you are symptomatic or believe you may have had direct contact with the virus, the USDA said.

If you see SARS-CoV-2 listed as the disease
The scientific name of the new strain of coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2. In people, the disease caused by the virus is referred to as COVID-19, but when referring to the virus itself in the context of animal health, the USDA said it will refer to it as SARS-CoV-2.

How did the tiger at the Bronx Zoo get a COVID-19 test if they are limited for people?
The test for animals and people are not the same, according to Bronx Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Paul Calle.

“The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people. You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations," Calle said.

Should I have pets and animals right now?
There is absolutely no reason to get rid of your pets and animals because of COVID-19 concerns. The case of the tiger at the Bronx Zoo is the first of its kind and any transmission of the type is rare, according to the CDC. Don’t panic, just be cautious. Treat your animals like you would people—keep them safe while keeping yourself safe when illness is present. Any affection you may miss with your pet while you’re sick can be given to them tenfold once you’re healthy.

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