Risk of animal-to-human COVID-19 transmission ‘negligible’: CityU

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The risk of contracting COVID-19 from pets is negligible, according to the Centre for Animal Health and Welfare at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).

To-date, more than 335 million people have contracted COVID-19 globally, and robust scientific evidence shows that humans are infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease, from other humans.

Animal-to-human infections have occurred only on a few occasions when large numbers of susceptible animals, for example mink, were housed together. In those cases, the animals were culled because of the risk of new variants arising in other animals that might find their way into the human population. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) of the Hong Kong SAR Government took the necessary steps to cull hamsters that had been housed together in a shipment from the Netherlands to prevent new variants occurring in Hong Kong.

However, there is no need for concern for individual animals at home. In particular, hamsters should not be abandoned. Infected hamsters usually shed the virus in respiratory secretions for three to six days. Therefore, hamsters purchased before 22 December 2021 pose no risk of being infected with the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 that was detected in the shipment of hamsters from the Netherlands.

We have confidence that the AFCD will manage the situation with pet hamsters effectively, as it did with quarantined cats and dogs during previous waves of the COVID-19 in Hong Kong. We believe that with careful planning, the risk of animal-to-human virus transmission can be managed with due consideration for animal welfare, specifically without the need to euthanase hamsters purchased before 22 December 2021.

We urge pet owners not to panic, not to abandon their pets, and to use normal hygiene measures when handling pets: avoid kissing them and wash your hands before and after touching them. 

This is also a timely reminder for everyone that the best way to prevent illness from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.

Media enquiries: Professor Vanessa Barrs, Chair Professor of Companion Animal Health and Disease (Tel: 3442 2943)


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