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Opelika cat tests positive for virus

A cat in Opelika was diagnosed this week with the same coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) are partnering to investigate the positive SARS-CoV-2 case in a deceased cat in Opelika.

COVID-19 is in humans caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 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.

The report came as human cases of COVID-19 topped 161,975 in Alabama and 1,294 in Pike County.

The Thompson Bishop Sparks State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Auburn detected an initial positive test on the cat. 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. Additional samples were collected and forwarded to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) for confirmatory testing. The NVSL confirmed the cat as positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus this week.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health veterinarians 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.

According to Dr. Dee W. Jones, state public health veterinarian, infections in animals are being examined closely by public health and animal officials, but at this point, there seems to be no evidence suggesting that companion animals are responsible for infecting people.

“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,”  he said. “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.”

Many of the same recommendations for protecting people apply to animals. To help protect companion animals, pet owners who are sick with COVID-19 should adhere to the following guidelines:

• Avoid contact with pets and other animals, as you would around other people.

• Arrange for another household member to care for your pets while under isolation.

• Avoid contact, such as petting, holding, snuggling and facial contact.

• Wear a mask and wash your hands before feeding or tending to your pet if you are unable to find alternate care.

If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let him or her know you have been sick with COVID-19.

A pet must meet the following criteria before a veterinarian can request a SARS-CoV-2 test:

• A household member must be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the preceding 14 days.

• The animal must exhibit respiratory symptoms and had direct exposure to the positive owner.

If your pet tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, isolate the pet from everyone else in the household, including other pets.

For more information, please contact ADPH at 1-800-677-0939.