What is Coronavirus?

You may have heard about coronavirus before, especially if you are a veterinarian.  Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are commonly found in dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs and poultry.  The corona virus also infects humans and is usually the cause in about 1 out of 5 cases of the common cold.

One of the more common corona viruses in pet animals is the Feline Corona Virus (FCoV) which is often asymptomatic, but can cause mild diarrhea.  The problem with this FCoV, is how it can mutate, and this leads to the development of Feline Infectious Peritonitis.  Mutation of FCoV is still poorly understood, but as we see with other RNA viruses, the corona mutation rate is high and unpredictable.   Viruses like to mutate to ensure their survival.  Think about the Influenza virus and its ability to mutate.  Each year the Influenza vaccine needs to be re-engineered to combat the latest evolution.  Mutation makes viruses succeed.

Mutated coronavirus strains have caused the three most recent global outbreaks: MERS, SARS and COVID-19.  Based on genetic sequencing of the virus, it is believed to have evolved from a bat coronavirus, to infect man.  The good news is that since COVID-19 was identified in December 2019, it does not appear to be changing.  This will make it easier to develop a vaccine that may offer lifetime protection.

What concerns most people about these pandemic-causing coronaviruses is the idea that they are coming from animals; and in COVID-19 and SARS before it, it appears to be that the species responsible is bats.  As veterinarians, we are uniquely qualified to help understand human pandemics, because of our knowledge of zoonotic disease.  We know that many pathogens do not follow geographic boundaries and zoonoses don’t care about what species they infect.  The public health sector needs veterinarians to help them understand, and work in tandem with the human and zoologic communities to better monitor disease surveillance in all animal populations.   Veterinarians belong on the front line!

The other important factor is monitoring the potential for reverse zoonoses.  Besides protecting our valuable and vital pet population, veterinarians must lead the charge to be responsible for the health of our food sources and be vigilant for signs of human to animal transmission of these novel viruses.  The CDC reports that there is no evidence that pets can become sick, and that there is also no evidence to suggest that pet dogs or cats can be a source of infection with COVID-19; including spreading COVID-19 to people.  Idexx® Laboratories tested thousands of animals and finds no sign of the virus.  The Oregon State VMA posted a great article about COVID-19 and pets, which is worth sharing with all pet owners: COVID-19 Coronavirus and Pets.

The history of world incidents, like pandemics and natural disasters, create anxiety and stress for all creatures; but none are so worried as an animal lover, who will take extra risk to care and protect the health of their pet.  They need you to stay safe, and they need you to continue to care for the medical needs of their beloved family member.  Follow best practices to keep yourself and your hospital community safe while you continue to save lives.   Veterinarians are, and will remain, critical warriors on the front-line of this and future global pandemics, so take care and know that your community is behind you!