Reports of dog with coronavirus 'incredibly irresponsible,' says professor

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The dog of a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong reportedly tested “weak positive” for the virus recently.

Though there’s no evidence pets can contract or transmit the virus, the Hong Kong government gave details of this “low level” test in a statement released on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in the country said they received a referral from the Department of Health on Feb. 26 regarding a patient that tested positive for COVID-19.

Staff of the AFCD, the statement reads, picked up the patient’s dog from the owner’s apartment in Tai Hang, an area in mid-north Hong Kong.

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“Oral, nasal and rectal samples were collected for testing of the COVID-19 virus,” it says. “The nasal and oral cavity samples were tested weak positive to COVID-19 virus.”

The statement goes on to say that the dog did not exhibit any symptoms of the disease, adding that the dog is the only one under quarantine at an animal-keeping facility in Hong Kong.

The AFCD added that it has no evidence that pet animals can be infected or be a source of infection to people, but will continue to closely monitor the dog and perform further tests to confirm “if the dog has really been infected with the virus or this is a result of environmental contamination of the dog’s mouth and nose.”

Despite a lack of evidence, the organization still recommends that “mammalian pets of patients confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 virus be put under quarantine by the AFCD.”

Professor Jonathan Ball at the University of Nottingham has called early reports of the quarantined dog “incredibly irresponsible.”

“The last thing we need to do is create mass hysteria about the possibility of dogs being infected, and therefore potentially transmitting this virus when there is absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever,” he told Science Media Centre, adding that differentiating between “real infection and just detecting the presence of virus” is vital.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also reports that there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in domestic animals and, furthermore, states that “there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus.”

Though various health organizations don’t have reason to believe pets can contract the virus or pass it on to humans, many dog owners in China have still chosen to put masks over their dogs’ mouths.

A pet dog goes out for a walk wearing a mask on Feb. 18, 2020 in Hefei, Anhui, China.

A pet dog goes out for a walk wearing a mask on Feb. 18, 2020 in Hefei, Anhui, China.

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A Chinese woman holds her dog that is wearing a protective mask as well as they stand in the street on Feb. 7, 2020 in Beijing, China.

A Chinese woman holds her dog that is wearing a protective mask as well as they stand in the street on Feb. 7, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Getty Images
A dog wears a mask to protect against viruses on Feb. 4, 2020 in Guangzhou, China.

A dog wears a mask to protect against viruses on Feb. 4, 2020 in Guangzhou, China.

Getty Images

The virus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, is now spreading from person-to-person, despite potentially emerging originally from an animal source.

The CDC recommends that people travelling to China avoid animals both live and dead, adding “there is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.”

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The virus has now infected more than 82,000 people and killed more than 2,800.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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