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Coronavirus: First dog to catch deadly disease dies just days after being declared disease-free in Hong Kong

A pomeranian in Hong Kong, who reportedly contracted the disease from its owner was declared disease-free and was sent home after being released from quarantine last month
UPDATED MAR 20, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A 17-year-old pomeranian in Hong Kong has become the first dog to die of the novel coronavirus. The canine's death marks for the first non-human death, ever since the pandemic broke out, earlier this year. The animal died on Monday, March 16.

The dog was declared disease-free after being quarantined in a government facility last month. However, it was was eventually sent home to its owner Yvonne Chow Hau Yee, 60, who tested positive for the virus last month, but recovered. The canine had been tested five times while being quarantined. The results for its nasal and oral samples showed 'weak positive' for the virus, even though the dog tested negative for the virus in the last two tests.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) stated that the genetic make-up of the virus found in Ms Yvonne Chow Hau Yee and the dog was highly similar, possibly due to the shared infection. “The [gene] sequence results indicate that the virus likely spread from the infected persons and subsequently infected the dog,” the department said in a statement.

The CDC reports that there is no evidence to verify whether if animals who have contracted coronavirus can spread it to humans or other animals. They believe that it is rare for animals to do so.

The World Health Organization had said previously that the dog is the only known canine to have contracted the killer disease. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. The WHO informed, “While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.”

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

With this new information coming to light, there have been many cases in Hong Kong where the pets are being quarantined by authorities and people have also been making their pets wear masks to avoid contracting the disease. The other pets, mainly dogs, will be thoroughly monitored and tested for the virus before they release it to their owners. This has led to widespread panic among people. 

Meanwhile, a few simple steps can be brought into use for controlling the disease spread s from pets or vice-versa. According to Dr Dana Vrable from the North American Veterinary Community’s Orlando headquarters, viruses, in general, do not spread from animals to humans very often but there is no harm in taking precautions. She says, “After you pet and play with your dog, you should wash your hands, just like you do for people, and you really shouldn’t allow your pets to lick your face, unfortunately,” she said. “I know we all do it, but we shouldn’t do it.”