Covid-19: first case of transmission from cat to human

Meaaatchoum! Numerous reports had highlighted cases of coronavirus infection of several pets, infected by humans, including cats. But we had never seen cases of infection from cats to humans…until now. This seemingly extremely rare case happened in Thailand, in August 2021, when a cat sneezed on its veterinarian. The details of this case of an infectious little cat are described in an article published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in July 2022.

A long ambulance trip for the cat and its owners

The sneeze behind this story happened in the city of Songkhla, in southern Thailand. Two men (32 and 64 years old) are hospitalized there on August 8, 2021 for Covid-19 at the Prince of Songkla University Hospital. The patients were transferred to the hospital of this city for lack of places available in the Thai capital, Bangkok, 900 kilometers further. But they were not alone. Their cat had accompanied them in the ambulance.

When they reached their destination, the patients (a father and his son) were hospitalized and the cat was transferred to the university’s veterinary hospital. He was examined there on August 10, but had no signs of illness. But you had to be sure. Veterinarians put the cat to sleep and took samples from its nose and rectum to look for traces of the coronavirus. But no luck, while one of the vets was taking the nasal sample, the cat sneezed directly into his face. The veterinarian attacked by this spit, a healthy 32-year-old woman, was wearing her N95 mask, but nothing protected her eyes… and the virus took the opportunity to sneak in.

Transmission confirmed by genotyping

Three days after this unfortunate encounter, the veterinarian developed symptoms (fever, stuffy nose, cough) which led to his hospitalization two days later, on August 15, 2021, the same day that the cat’s test results showed that he too was infected. The patient’s PCR test was also positive, although no one in her close circle was infected. The only other infected people in her entourage were the two other veterinarians with whom she had examined the feline. First suspect therefore… the cat.

To confirm this, researchers from the Translational Medicine Research Center at Prince University of Songkla genotyped the entire genome of the coronaviruses found in veterinarians, cats and their owners. The genome of the virus was identical for the three vets, but different from those present in the infected population of this city at that time (mainly the Alpha variant, while the Delta was rampant in Bangkok, the city of origin of the cat) . So the infection did not come from another person from Songkla. And obviously, the cat’s virus was exactly the same as his vets. The circle was complete, the cat, and its sneeze, were the culprits.

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