Scientists fear that a child who came down with pneumonia may have been infected by a coronavirus transmitted by a dog. The child was hospitalized in Malaysia in 2018 and researchers found it had the same kind of coronavirus already found in dogs. The researchers could not prove if the child was infected by a dog carrying the virus; but if it did, they fear it portends serious risks for humanity everywhere.
According to a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the researchers said this would be the eighth coronaviruses to be carried by dogs and transmissible to humans if it eventually turns out to be a human pathogen. Based on this assumption, the researchers said it is imperative for scientists to investigate the new viruses to stem its spread before it gets out of hand.
An infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University, Dr. Gregory Gray, said people are always at risk of picking up infections from animals without realizing it; and that the earlier they knew it the better to mitigate the spread before it becomes a pandemic.
“We should be looking for these things,” he said. “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.”
While scientists had always known that canines can host a coronavirus, they suspect the Malaysian child may have either been infected by a dog or even a cat. Scientists know that dogs and cats can get the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 in people, but they have no hard evidence to suggest that these animals can transmit it to humans.
As part of his expansive research, Gray asked one of his doctoral students, Leshan Xiu, to create a screening tool that could detect all kinds of coronaviruses far different from what scientists already know. The tool was used to analyze the nasopharyngeal swabs of 301 people hospitalized for pneumonia in Malaysia from 2017 and 2018, NPR reports.
Eight of the 301 samples revealed coronavirus like those that infect dogs, and the eight samples were actually taken from children who played a lot with wild and domestic animals. Gray said his team was confounded since canine coronavirus had never been seen before and scientists thought it must be a contaminant instead of the pathogen that it was.
But Dr. Anastavia Vlasova, a veterinarian, and virologist at Ohio State University verified that two of the eight samples were really coronavirus peculiar to dogs.
“Humans and dogs have been together for a long time,” said John Lednicky, a virologist at the University of Florida. “We’ve probably been exchanging these viruses; they just weren’t recognized.”