Medical Study in Malaysia Links Coronavirus in Dogs, Cats to Humans

Hadi Azmi and S. Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
Medical Study in Malaysia Links Coronavirus in Dogs, Cats to Humans Two Labrador sniffer dogs, Lucky and Flo, find DVDs hidden in a box at Malaysian Airlines Cargo during a demonstration in Sepang, Malaysia, March 13, 2007.

A new type of coronavirus found in Malaysian pneumonia patients is not presently a cause for concern, as scientists have not established that it makes people sick or can be passed human-to-human, a noted virologist from the Southeast Asian country said Monday.

Scientists know of seven coronaviruses that infect people – including SARS-CoV2, which has spread globally and spawned several variants, as part of the COVID-19 pandemic. SARS-CoV2 is one of three coronaviruses originating in animals that have caused major outbreaks of disease in humans in the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yahya Mat Arip, an expert in virology and immunology at Malaysia Science University, said coronaviruses are common in animals, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had raised interest in findings contained in a recent study.

“At this point, it is not a concern to humans since human-to-human transmission of the canine coronavirus has not happened,” Yahya told BenarNews.

Researchers said the new type of coronavirus found in nose and throat swabs of eight pneumonia patients in Sarawak – a state in Malaysian Borneo – had likely originated in dogs, or possibly cats. But it was unclear if the virus had caused the cases of pneumonia in the eight people who were hospitalized in Sarawak in 2017 and 2018,

“This is the first report of a novel canine-feline recombinant alphacoronavirus isolated from a human pneumonia patient. If confirmed as a pathogen, it may represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans. Our findings underscore the public health threat of animal CoVs and a need to conduct better surveillance for them,” said the abstract of the article published in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases on May 20.

Researchers involved in the study said many of the patients had a common connection.

“Most patients were children living in rural areas with frequent exposure to domesticated animals and wildlife,” the report said.

Researchers worldwide need to pay close attention to domesticated animals and those who work with animals, said Gregory Gray, one of the study’s authors.

“I think the key message here is that these things are probably happening all over the world, where people come in contact with animals, especially intense contact and we’re not picking them up,” said Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University.

“We should be looking for these things. If we can catch them early and find out that these viruses are successful in the human host, then we can mitigate them before they become a pandemic virus,” he added.

According to Yahya, the new coronavirus could pose negative outcomes for people.

“Yes, there are possibilities for the virus to mutate further, but at this point there’s nothing to worry about,” Yahya said. “The interesting fact in the Sarawak case is that the canine coronavirus is found in humans, indicating that the virus is adjusting to a new host.

He pointed to cases where viruses did mutate.

“A good example is the influenza virus, where the mixing influenza virus between swine and avian which later jumped into humans led to diseases in humans,” he said.

When asked about the study, a spokesperson for Malaysia’s health ministry said it was not ready to comment on it.

“So far we have not released any statements on the matter,” the spokesperson told BenarNews without elaborating.

Malaysia is experiencing its latest wave of a COVID-19 outbreak with infections totaling 6,509 on Monday, falling short of the record 6,976 cases on Sunday, according to the health department. The death total of 61 on Monday is the single most recorded and brought the pandemic total to 2,309.


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