In this picture taken on on April 14, 2020, communications manager and Tai Po Homing Centre assistant manager Eva Sit wears a face mask as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus while walking with Sidney near a Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR) homing centre in Hong Kong. (AFP / Anthony Wallace)

Misleading claim circulates about WHO's advice on COVID-19 transmission from cats and dogs

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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.

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on July 23, 2020

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.” 

A similar claim has also been shared here, here and here on Facebook.

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”.

A screenshot of the WHO website taken on July 24, 2020