Hong Kong quarantines dog for coronavirus, experts caution over pet spread

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong has quarantined the dog of a coronavirus patient in what could be the first case of human-to-animal transmission, although experts cautioned against pets being potential spreaders of the virus.

The dog has tested “weak positive” for the virus, which indicates a low level of infection, the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said on Wednesday.

“The department will continue to closely monitor the dog ... and repeat the test later. It will only be returned to its owner when the test result is negative,” the AFCD said in a statement.

It said there is no evidence pets can be a source of infection.

The World Health Organization website says there is no evidence so far that companion pets can be infected with the coronavirus.

Other disease experts say it is possible, but as animals generally don’t tend to have symptoms, pets are unlikely to spread the virus further.

“Some animals have the same receptor for Covid-19 so they can have the disease general, animals are not symptomatic,” said Dale Fisher, a Singapore-based infectious diseases expert, who chairs the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network coordinated by the WHO.

“It’s possible but it’s certainly not proven and I’m sure it’s not going to drive the outbreak.”

Animal health experts examining the Hong Kong case said pet owners should not be overly concerned and should not abandon their pets.

Hong Kong has more than 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and two people have died. There are more than 95,300 cases worldwide, the majority in China, and more than 3,200 people have died, a Reuters tally shows.

Reporting By Felix Tam, Jessie Pang, Marius Zaharia and John Geddie: Writing by Anne Marie Roantree: Editing by Mark Heinrich and Neil Fullick