Hong Kong authorities have warned residents against kissing their pets after a dog belonging to a coronavirus patient in the city tested “weak positive” for COVID-19, the official name for novel coronavirus.
After conducting multiple tests on the dog over a period of days, Hong Kong’s Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement that the animal was found to have “a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission.”
The department said that it has reported the incident to the World Organization for Animal Health, who are now investigating the case.
The dog, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, was given to authorities Feb. 26 after its owner tested positive for the virus. As part of Hong Kong’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, authorities facilitate the quarantine of cats and dogs who live in households where someone is infected with the virus.
A weak positive result indicates that there was a small amount of COVID-19 in the samples taken from the dog, but it does not tell whether the samples contain intact viruses which are infections, or just fragments, which are not contagious.
The department urged pet owners to adopt good hygiene practices “including hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them.”
Authorities also stressed that there is no evidence that pets will get sick from COVID-19 or cause human infections.
Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cautioned residents not to overreact to the news of the dog’s infection, noting that the dog is showing no symptoms and is healthy and well in quarantine.
In a Facebook post, the group pointed out that “‘being infected’ does not equal being infectious and capable of spreading the COVID-19 virus. We wish to remind the public that there is no evidence that companion animals can transmit the disease to humans.”
Hong Kong authorities also repeatedly urged people not to abandon their pets in a separate Facebook post.The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that there is no evidence that companion animals such as dogs and cats can be infected with the virus, or can be sources of human infection.
Responding specifically to this advice, Hong Kong authorities said in a statement: “COVID-19 is a newly emerged disease and scientists are still trying to understand more about it. The situation is rapidly evolving and information will be updated as it becomes available.”
China, the country in which the coronavirus outbreak started, has seen 80,409 reports of confirmed cases and 3,012 deaths from the disease on the Chinese mainland since the outbreak began, according to the March 5. figures from China’s National Health Commission.
Hong Kong, a semiautonomous region of China has seen 105 cases of the disease, and two deaths according to official figures.