CHICAGO -- As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to surge worldwide, scientists and health experts, including University of Illinois researchers who helped diagnose a New York zoo tiger with the disease, are now looking into how animals are affected by the new coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the Bronx Zoo revealed that a 4-year-old Malayan tiger tested positive for the new coronavirus after she and six other tigers and lions developed a dry cough. And despite the tiger and a few other animals abroad testing positive for the virus, health officials are dispelling fears that people can contract COVID-19 from their pets.
"There's no evidence that pets, including cats and dogs, can spread COVID-19 to people," said Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's One Health Office in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.
Barton Behravesh noted that there was "no reason to think" that the skin or fur of pets can spread the virus to people.
But while health experts say there is no evidence to suggest pets can transmit coronavirus to humans, they are encouraging people who have the disease or are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to remain socially distant from their pets.
"If somebody has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in a household, or they have been exposed to someone who was and are in quarantine, they should treat their pet just like any other human in their family," said Dr. Rustin Moore, the dean of Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
He added, "that means maintaining social distancing, no touching, petting, cuddling, or hugging."
Dr. Karen Terio, the chief of the Zoological Pathology Program at the University of Illinois veterinary college, where tests for the Bronx Tiger were done, said she and other scientists are now looking at what other types of animals are susceptible to the virus.
"We're trying to understand how this virus might be spread or transmitted between different animal species. ... and how it might be spread between humans and animals," she said.
It's possible wild cats might be more susceptible to COVID-19 than domestic cats, as other viruses can hit wild cats hard, but not affect domestic cats as much, according to the University of Illinois. But it's not yet known what differences there might be in the effect of COVID-10 on house cats and wild cats.