First US dog in NY contracts COVID-19; NC pug didn’t actually have it, experts say

A pet German shepherd in New York is the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for the novel coronavirus after its owners noticed it was showing signs of respiratory illness, officials announced.

The news contradicts previous reports of Winston the pug from North Carolina, which was reported to be the first dog in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. But officials from the United States Department of Agriculture later confirmed they were “unable to verify infection” in Winston the pug, USA Today reported.

Still, with the German shepherd testing positive, researchers and officials say you shouldn’t be too worried around your pets.

“We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals, but there is currently no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus,” the USDA said Tuesday in a statement. “While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans.”

One of the German shepherd’s owners tested positive for the coronavirus, and another showed symptoms, the statement said, suggesting they transmitted the virus to their dog, which is expected to make a full recovery.

“It appears that people with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact,” according to the USDA. The agency recommends infected individuals keep a distance from pets and other animals to protect them from infection.

A second dog in the house did not show similar signs of respiratory illness, but it had antibodies in its system, “suggesting exposure,” the USDA said.

The German shepherd joins a list of other infected animals including a tiger, lion and two cats — all animals in New York that are expected to have caught the virus from their owners or caretakers.

A dog in Hong Kong was the first reported animal to have contracted COVID-19, according to CNBC.

World Health Organization officials announced in April that several groups are investigating how animals get infected, the outlet reported.

The USDA also said it will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and with state and local animal and public health officials — to “make determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2,” the statement said.

However, USDA officials said the chances your pet can infect you with the coronavirus is low, and there’s “no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare.”

What went wrong with Winston?

Researchers at Duke University studying the coronavirus tested Dr. Heather McLean — who works at the university — her husband, son and three pets for the disease in April at a private university laboratory, the New York Times reported.

All family members and their dog Winston tested positive, with the dog’s test result showing “a low amount of the virus,” the outlet said.

But when the USDA stepped in to officially confirm the results, their tests came back negative.

“No virus was isolated, and there was no evidence of an immune response,” USDA spokeswoman Joelle Hayden told the NYT. The initial test “may be the result of contamination from the COVID-19-positive household,” Hayden said.

Dr. Chris Woods, the head of the Duke research team, told the NYT that Winston was contaminated with the virus, but not infected by it because if so, it would have been replicating in his system.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want people to be scared of their animals,” he added, according to the NYT.

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