Human-to-human transmission is the driver of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the possibility that the new coronavirus SARS-Cov2 will infect other animal species again remains of concern. Partners within NCOH are starting to research the role of cats in potential virus transmission of this respiratory tract infection.
A few months ago, the new coronavirus SARS-Cov2 first appeared in China. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide. In the meantime, sensitivity to SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated in several countries for some animal species, especially cat- and martenaceans. Although human-to-human transmission is the driver of this pandemic, the possibility that the virus will infect other animal species again remains of concern. Especially in a country such as the Netherlands that is densely populated, where many people keep pets and with intensive livestock farming, animals might remain reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 potentially causing re-emergence of COVID-19 in humans.
In April and May 2020, COVID-19 was detected in four mink farms in the Netherlands. The minks showed several disease symptoms including respiratory problems and increased mortality. Some employees at the farms had symptoms of the coronavirus. Research shows that minks on the farm transmitted the virus to each other. It is also plausible that there was an infection of mink on humans. In this employee’s case, the virus has been shown to have genetic similarities with the virus found in minks at the same farm. Although transmission of COVID-19 from mink to humans is plausible in this case, the RIVM stresses that the risk of exposure of people to the virus outside the stable is still negligible.
The study also tested cats at one of the infected farm sites. In three out of eleven cats antibodies against COVID-19 were detected. This means that the cats have been infected. Combined with the publications that showed susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 in cats in other countries, it is important to research the role of cats in potential virus transmission of this respiratory tract infection. In this context, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) has asked for research into (virus) transmission in cats by collaborating research groups within the Netherlands Centre for One Health (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University Utrecht, Wageningen University & Research, Erasmus MC and research centres in human health care).