Misleading claim circulates about WHO's advice on COVID-19 transmission from cats and dogs
Multiple Facebook posts shared hundreds of times claim the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a statement that cats and dogs do not “carry” COVID-19. The claim is misleading; a WHO spokesperson told AFP they have published no such statement; in July 2020, experts said there was “little evidence” that animals can transmit the virus to humans, but there was some evidence of human-to-animal transmission.
The claim was published here on Facebook on July 19, 2020. It has been shared more than 300 times.
The post features a photo of a cat, and a traditional Chinese text overlay which translates to English as: “The World Health Organization officially states: Cats and dogs lack ACE2 within their bodies, which makes no way for it to bind with [COVID-19] strain's S protein, so cats and dogs will not become organisms carrying COVID-19. Please share if you care, my friends, in case [cats and dogs] are abandoned for misinformation.”
The claim, however, is misleading.
In response to the posts, the WHO said it had not issued the purported statement.
A WHO spokesperson told AFP by email on July 23, 2020: “I checked and didn’t find that we made that statement.”
In a separate earlier email, dated July 22, 2020, the spokesperson said that while “there is evidence of transmission at the human-animal interface” as the virus “spreads primarily through human-to-human transmission”, there is “no reason or justification to take measures against companion animals”.
The spokeperson also direct AFP to this July 2, 2020 WHO press conference discussing the “transmission [of COVID-19] from human to animals”.
At the conference’s one-hour, four-minute 11-second mark, WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan stated: “It's clear that there are some animals like the felines - cats and ferrets and even tigers can get infection (so human to animal), but very little evidence of the reverse.”
The WHO website’s COVID-19 Q&A section also notes here that while “several dogs and cats (domestic cats and tigers) in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19”, “there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19”.