House Pets Can Catch, Spread SARS
House Cats and Ferrets Are Easily Infected With SARS Virus From Humans
Oct. 29, 2003 -- The number of animals harboring the virus that
causes SARS may be much larger than once thought, and some of them might be in
your own home.
New research shows that common house pets such as cats and
ferrets may easily become infected with the SARS virus and spread the disease
Researchers say the original source of the virus that causes
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is still unknown, but many suspect it
emerged from a wild animal species.
However, the results of a new study suggest that the animal
reservoir from which the virus may have jumped to humans may include a wide
range of animals, both domestic and wild.
"The observation that two distinctly related carnivores can
so easily be infected with the virus indicates that the reservoir for this
pathogen may involve a range of animal species," write researcher Byron
E.E. Martina, of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and
SARS Virus Spreads Easily Among Animals
Previous research has already shown that exotic animals such as
Chinese ferret badgers, masked palm civets, and raccoon dogs can be infected
with a virus very similar to the SARS virus. Domestic cats living in an
apartment complex in Hong Kong that was particularly hard hit by the SARS
outbreak also were found to be infected with the SARS virus.
In this study, researchers found through laboratory testing
that both domestic cats and ferrets were easily infected with SARS virus taken
from a human patient. They also transmitted the virus to other animals that
live with them.
The infected cats showed no signs of SARS-related illness, but
three of the ferrets developed SARS symptoms and one of them died within four
days of infection.
"Our results show that ferrets and domestic cats are
susceptible to experimental infection by [the SARS virus], and that the virus
is efficiently transmitted to animals living with them," write the
researchers. "These species might therefore be useful as animal models to
test antiviral drugs or vaccine candidates against SARS."