By JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News
Wednesday, November 4, 2020 (Kaiser News) – As COVID-19 cases rise in the United States, a Texas veterinarian has been silently monitoring the spread of the disease – not in humans but in their pets.
Since June, Dr. Sarah Hamer and her team at Texas A&M University have tested hundreds of animals from homes in areas where humans are infected with COVID-19. Sure they have been groomed dogs and cats, but both guinea pigs and guinea pigs look for signs of infection. “We’re open to all of that,” said Hamer, professor of epidemiology, who found at least 19 cases of the infection.
One pet that tested positive was Phoenix, a 7-year-old Siamese cat owned by Kaitlyn Romoser, who worked in the university̵7;s laboratory. Romoser, 23, has been confirmed to have COVID-19 twice, once in March and again in September. For the second time, she’s much thinner, and Phoenix is her regular companion.
“If I knew that animals could carry it everywhere, I tried to distance themselves, but it won’t distance me,” Romoser said. “He slept in bed with me. Absolutely no social alienation. “
Across the country, veterinarians and other researchers are scouring the animal kingdom for signs of the virus that causes COVID-19. According to federal records, at least 2,000 animals in the US have been tested for coronavirus since the outbreak of the pandemic. Dogs and cats that have been in contact with an infected owner represent most of the animals tested and 80% of positive cases are found.
But scientists have set up an extensive network to investigate other animals that might be in danger. In states from California to Florida, researchers tested species ranging from pet weasels and zoo cats to unexpected creatures like dolphins, armadillos and anteater.
The United States Department of Agriculture keeps an official tally of confirmed animal COVID cases in the tens. But that list is a large number of actual infections. In Utah and Wisconsin, for example, more than 14,000 weasels have died in recent weeks after COVID infection spreads from humans.