Alabama officials are investigating following the death of a cat that tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) are leading the investigation, according to a news release from the health department.
The cat, from Opelika, Ala., first tested positive for COVID-19, at The Thompson Bishop Sparks State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Auburn.
However, “the laboratory veterinary pathologists found significant lesions in the nervous system that typically indicates bacterial infections, suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was NOT the primary cause of death,” officials said.
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The National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) was then sent additional samples, later confirming that the cat was indeed positive for the novel virus.
Public health veterinarians with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “have found that in nearly all animal deaths associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the animals had multiple infections or had underlying health issues at the same time. Thus far, less than 10 animal deaths in the U.S. are thought to have been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” per officials.
“There is still a lot we just don’t know about how frequently animals become infected, so this has been an opportunity for us to gather information that might help us prevent more infections in companion animals,” said Dr. Dee W. Jones, state public health veterinarian, in a statement.
“We’re working with the local veterinarian and the owner to gather more information about the animal’s medical history as well as other companion animals in the household. However, at this time during the pandemic, companion animals don’t seem to be at risk from suffering severe illness with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” he added.
Since the pandemic began, there have been various reports of cats — both domestic and wild — contracting the virus from humans. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, for instance, tested positive for the coronavirus in early April after likely being exposed to it by an infected worker. Then, later that same month, two cats in New York became the first pets in the U.S. to test positive.
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However, at this time, experts have maintained that there is limited evidence to suggests pets can spread the virus to humans. Indeed, “SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals are thought to be very rare, and have primarily occurred 5 to 10 days following exposure to a positive human,” Alabama health officials said.
The CDC offers guidance to pet owners amid the pandemic, advising any sick owners to “restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with people” until COVID-19 is better understood.