Two weeks ago, a dog in Hong Kong was reported to have tested “weakly positive,” for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
For now, and for those in a hurry this morning, this means nothing really. Here’s why: There is still no evidence that pets can become infected with this pathogen or pass it on to people or other animals.
The dog lived with a person who was infected and being isolated at home while the disease ran its course. Dogs are warm-blooded creatures, and coronaviruses are common in our environment. Coronaviruses, first identified in the 1960s, are important human and animal disease agents.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a new one. So, a dog in an environment with this new pathogen, could take it up its nose and into its mouth.
How long this form of the virus can remain infectious on surfaces or in dogs’ noses is not well known. That a healthy dog might have some of it picked up on a molecular-level test is not unusual or scary. Hence, the “weakly positive,” wording.
Think of it this way: People who work in glitter factories likely get glitter on themselves. Anyone who works with or around animals will most often pick up some environmental contamination from those animals. Think of a dusty cowboy, a dairy operator, or a scientific technician caring for rodents. The animals can get contaminated, too.
Most times, with a competent immune system and good hygiene, people don’t get infected with disease agents. But sometimes they do. An infection does not always result in clinical disease, and this is where a lot of the public is becoming unnecessarily worried.
We have infectious agents on and in our bodies all the time. Sometimes we are infected. And sometimes, an infection can result in disease, but not all the time.
If one gets 2019-nCoV on your intact hand and you wash your hand properly, you will not likely get COVID-19. If, however you take your contaminated hand and put it to your mouth, eyes or nose, you may develop an infection and you may get the disease, but even then, it may not be serious in most cases for most people.
For the elderly and frail people currently in the western Washington assisted care facility suffering fatalities, my heart truly goes out to them and their families. They are vulnerable and in a concentrated environment. A perfect place for a new, emerging disease to flourish.
Viruses compete to survive, thrive in ideal habitat and reproduce or replicate to perpetuate their kind. Random mutations occur frequently and sometimes make them more competitive or deadly, but most times the mutations are probably fatal.
The virus causing COVID-19 is a cause for reasonable concern. It is not currently a cause for concern in pets, and it is unlikely to be. If new information comes out to the contrary, Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and all others in the nation will let you know.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.