Canine coronavirus found in humans in Malaysia, study says

A recently published study conducted in Malaysia found the first cases of canine coronavirus in human patients who were suffering from pneumonia in 2017. 

The study, published in the journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases" on May 20, 2021, observed more than 301 samples collected in 2017 from patients suffering from pneumonia in Sarawak, Malaysia. Of those 301 patients, 2.5% were found to have canine coronavirus (CCoV). And of that 2.5%, all but one were children whose ages ranged from 5 months old to 4 years old, according to Dr. Anastasia Vlasova, co-author of the study. 

Vlasova also noted that it is unconfirmed whether or not the patients got pneumonia after contracting canine coronavirus and the pneumonia was a side effect or if the patients already had pneumonia and the canine coronavirus worsened symptoms. Further observations need to be made, she told FOX TV Stations. 

Stray dogs

FILE - Stray dogs are seen as shop remained closed during a lockdown imposed to try and contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Certain types of coronaviruses that spread from animals to humans are not a new discovery and in fact, recent studies show it has been happening for many years, Vlasova said. But with the advancement of medical treatments as well as strengthening human immune systems, most people are able to get over the infections. 

"They started researching what viruses they could find in those pneumonia patients," Vlasova said. "So when they found a bunch of viruses that were common respiratory pathogens, among them, they found a proportion of coronavirus. Some of them were human coronaviruses, normally associated with common colds that were known before, some of them, surprisingly, turned out to be canine coronavirus, which has never been reported before." 

Vlasova said not only was it unexpected to find canine coronavirus in humans, but the disease seemed to infect children more than adults, which was surprising to researchers. 

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Vlasova chalks it up to children’s immune systems not being as developed as adult immune systems and she also speculates that there is a possibility that adults who were able to recover from the pneumonia and canine coronavirus might have been infected with the virus in the past, creating antibodies — but further research needs to be done. 

"We are telling everyone there are no reasons to worry, that it’s not going to be another COVID-19. So, what we think right now, and we have to continue studying this virus, but our current working hypothesis is that this happens pretty frequently and it’s been happening for a while. That dog coronaviruses were jumping to people, however, no massive outbreaks were recorded associated with this coronavirus," Vlasova said. 

The study also speculates that transmission from human to human is possible, but it’s not as contagious as COVID-19. 

"Most likely, it cannot spread very efficiently to other children or other people. Or it can but the efficiency of that transmission is very low, not like COVID-19," Vlasova added. 

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Vlasova said the cases out of Malaysia are a good reminder that there is still more research to be done because, despite no fatalities or outbreaks from canine coronavirus, there is a possibility if more research isn’t done, the coronavirus can mutate, evolve and become potentially more harmful, Vlasova said. 

Vlasova also said several studies in Thailand and Arkansas are helping piece together a puzzle about canine coronavirus in humans which will help move research forward to prevent any potentially harmful canine coronavirus strains. 

"We’re getting different pieces of the puzzle from different regions, and so far, we don’t have any reasons to see that it’s going to cause any massive outbreaks anytime soon but definitely, we need to keep studying to understand this virus, its pathogenic, its immunity and especially how well it can spread among humans," Vlasova continued. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are currently three types of coronavirus that spread from animals to humans and cause serious respiratory infection which include 2019-nCoV, SARS-CoV, and MERS-Co. 

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For now, canine coronavirus is not on the CDC’s list, but Vlasova believes more research needs to be done in order to keep it that way.

And Vlasova does not want dog owners to fret because it is highly unlikely a dog that does not interact often with other dogs or large groups of stray dogs can contract canine coronavirus and spread it to humans, so long as owners practice safe hygiene and get regular checkups. 

"You cannot get it from your single pet that doesn’t really mingle with other animals because the pet cannot get it from anywhere. But if it’s some shelter with large numbers of dogs or a hospital or a dog show or large populations of stray dogs, that’s when you have to screen them. It would be concerning that it could jump from dogs to humans," Vlasova said.