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Cats spread coronavirus easily to each other, but pets unlikely to infect humans: research

A cat is seen in this file photo taken in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Dec. 1, 2015. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Cats can infect each other with the novel coronavirus, and may be able to easily spread the pathogen, according to findings in a study carried out by a team that includes researchers at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo.

The team's report was published on May 14 in the electronic edition of the U.S. science journal "The New England Journal of Medicine." It said that reports of transmissions from humans to cats and its own findings showed "there is a public health need to recognize and further investigate the potential chain of human-cat-human transmission."

Accounts have emerged of felines including lions and tigers being found infected with the novel coronavirus in the U.S. and India, as have reports in the U.S. and Belgium of domestic cats being infected, but at this time there are no confirmed cases of infections from cats to humans.

The research team took liquid samples that included the coronavirus from infected people, and inoculated three cats aged between 15 and 18 weeks with the pathogen by administering it to their nasal tracts, mouths and eyes. Checks on their mucous membranes showed that after three days all three cats were testing positive for the infectious coronavirus, and that they were reportedly shedding the virus for over 6 days from exposure.

Each of the infected cats was then kept in separate cages with another uninfected cat, and all three pairs were later found to have the coronavirus. It's thought that cats easily pass the virus on to one another due to their behavior, such as grooming each other, offering numerous opportunities for close contact.

In all six cats, symptoms such as an abnormal temperature, weight loss or conjunctivitis were not detected. According to the research team, it's possible that cats without underlying health conditions won't show symptoms from the novel coronavirus.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor in virology at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo and a member of the research team, said, "It's possible that humans could infect cats, so people with the virus should avoid interacting with cats. Also, to avoid infection (from cat to cat), it's important not to let them outside."

On May 1, the Japan Veterinary Medical Association released a written statement saying that there were no reports of people being infected by animals, and cited the views of its counterparts in Belgium in judging that "there is no danger of infection from pets."

(Japanese original by Ryo Watanabe, Science & Medical News Department)

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