[EXPERT REACTION] Tigers, cats and COVID-19

Photo by Raghav Kabra on Unsplash

A four-year-old Malayan tiger, Nadia, was tested positive for COVID-19 in Bronx Zoo, New York on Sunday. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with the coronavirus. We speak to Prof Dr Abdul Rahman Omar, Dean Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiti Putra Malaysia for comments.


What are your comments on this latest development?

“The detection of COVID-19 virus in tiger is not surprising since we know that SARS-CoV-2 can infect cats, and cats and tiger are from the same family, Felidae.”  

Are there genetic similarities between tigers and humans that they are susceptible too to the disease?

“At the moment, we do not know the genetic profiles of the COVID-19 virus  isolated from tiger compared to the virus isolated from humans.”

There is recently a case of a cat becoming ill with COVID-19 in Belgium and also Hong Kong reported third cat positive. Is there a COVID-19 trend in the “cats family“ we are looking at? 

“We know now that cats are susceptible to the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). Most likely we will be seeing more cases where the virus been transmitted from infected human to cats family if the individual that are detected positive for COVID-19 are interacting with these animals. It seems that the cats and tigers infected with the virus are showing mild symptoms and not life-threatening, indicating the amount of virus shedding from the infected animals is probably low.”

With this new development, how should we approach the handling the of animals, including pets?

“As always practice standard precautions of good hygiene during interactions with your pets, i.e. wash hands before and after interacting with your animals, including feeding them and removing soiled bedding. Whenever possible keep the pets indoors.”

Is there any evidence that pet animals, including dogs and cats can be a source of the virus and transmit them to humans?

“No evidence to indicate the virus can be transmitted from infected cats to human. Based on the current information, the risk is very low for it to happen. Nevertheless, standard precautions of good hygiene must be taken.”

Bionotes of expert

Prof Dr Abdul Rahman Omar obtained his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, Malaysia in 1991 and PhD in Cellular Immunology from Cornell University, the USA in 1997. Upon completion his PhD, he joined the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, UPM as a lecturer and was promoted to Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases in 2008. He has more than 20 years teaching and research experience in virology and immunology of animal diseases. His research interest is in using biotechnology and immunogenomics approaches in the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics against poultry diseases. He was the Director of Institute Bioscience (IBS) at UPM from 2011 to 2019.  He is currently the Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, UPM and Chairman of Malaysian One Health University Network (MyOHUN). He is also the Chairman on Institutional Biosafety Committee, UPM, President of World Veterinary Poultry Association (WVPA), Malaysia, and regional advisor of Global Alliance for Research on Avian Diseases (GARAD), UK. 

Media release: USDA: Confirmation of COVID-19 in a Tiger in New York

**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/


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