Major variant of coronavirus detected in pets for the first time | Science

Sick cat at the San Diego Humane Society. Cats and dogs were found harboring the B.1.1.7 variant SARS-CoV-2.

ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP via Getty Images

By David Grimm

ScienceThe COVID-19 statement is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

The variants of SARS-CoV-2 are not just a human problem that keeps emerging. Two reports released this week have found the first evidence that dogs and cats can be infected with B.1.1.7, a recent version of the coronavirus pandemic that easier transmission between humans and which also appears more lethal in them. The findings mark the first time one of several major changes of concern outside of humans has been observed.

B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom and that is where some of the pets with different variables were found. UK animals suffered from myocarditis – inflammation in the heartbeat that can, in severe cases, cause heart failure. But the reports offer no proof that the SARS-CoV-2 variant is responsible, or that it is more mobile or dangerous in animals. “It’s an interesting idea, but there’s no evidence that the virus causes these problems,” said Scott Weese, a veterinarian at the University of Guelph’s College of Ontario Medicine who specializes in emerging infectious diseases.

Since December 2020, scientists have identified a number of anxiety concerns that appear more diffuse or capable of avoiding an immune response. B.1.351, for example, was first discovered in South Africa, and a strain called P.1 was first discovered in Brazil. The B.1.1.7 variant attracted early attention due to its rapid growth in the United Kingdom; there are now about 95% of new infections.

So far the effects of these variables on pets are unclear. Although there are now more than 120 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, only a handful of pets have been positive for the original SARS-CoV-2 – probably because no one is testing them. . Infected pets appear to have symptoms ranging from moderate to unstable, and infectious disease experts say companion animals are unlikely to play a major role in the transmission of the coronavirus to humans.

The new variables could change that equation, says Eric Leroy, an expert at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development that specializes in zoonotic diseases. In one of the new studies, he and colleagues analyzed pets admitted to the cardiology unit at the Ralph Veterinary Change Center on the outskirts of London. The hospital noticed a significant increase in the number of dogs and cats present with myocarditis: From December 2020 to February, the frequency of the condition jumped from 1.4% to 12.8%.

This coincided with an increase in the UK variance B.1.1.7. So the team looked at 11 pets: eight cats and three dogs. None of the animals had a previous history of heart disease, but all had come down with symptoms ranging from lethargy and loss of appetite to rapid breathing and relief. Laboratory tests of cardiac aneurysms, including irregular heartbeats and fluid in the lungs, revealed all the symptoms seen in human cases of COVID-19.

Seven of the animals tested for polymerase chain reaction, and three came back positive for SARS-CoV-2 – all with the B.1.1.7 difference, the team reported yesterday on the bioRxiv preprint server. SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests on four of the other animals provided evidence that two of them were infected with the virus. Earlier this week, researchers at Texas A&M University discovered the B.1.1.7 variant in a cat and dog from the same home in Brazos county of the state.

A Texas owner was tested with COVID-19, and owners of five of the 11 pets in the UK tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 – all before their animals developed symptoms. Texas pets showed no symptoms at the time of the test, although they both began sneezing several weeks later. All the animals from the US and the UK have since recovered, although one of the UK cats reappeared and had to euthanise.

Leroy states that it is unclear whether B.1.1.7 is more mobile than the original human-animal weight, or vice versa. It is “impossible to say” that pets with B.1.1.7 infection could play a worse role in the pandemic, he said, but “this idea needs to be taken seriously. ”

Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, reveals that the researchers only showed a correlation between B.1.1.7 infection and myocarditis, and did not rule out other causes for her. mourning. “There is no evidence that pets were sick from the virus,” she says.

Weese agrees that Texas or UK decisions should not make any noises about pets endangering their owners. “The risk of them becoming an infectious disease is very low,” he said. “If my dog ​​has it, he may have got it from me. And I am far more likely to capture my family and neighbors before doing so. “

However, he says scientists and veterinarians should study the role, if any, of SARS-CoV-2 and its different changes in pet myocarditis . There is evidence that the virus can cause the condition in humans, Weese notes, so it is worth studying in companion animals. “It may be true,” he said, “but there’s no reason for people to speak out right now. ”