We have started to field a number of questions about Coronavirus; also referred to as COVID-19, so it’s time to make information accessible to everyone! Let's start by saying that this is a very fluid situation. Infection rates and mortality rates can change quickly.
We intend for this to be a practical and basic discussion to consider reasonable and factual information.
We aren't infectious disease experts, but we do read the scientific literature (not Dr. Google) and we do weigh what is factual and what is hype. We also have personal experience with germ protocols having survived cancer treatment using chemo that resulted in blood cell counts so low they were classified as “infection fatal”. So, let's break down what we've learned and how that can be applied to our current situation.
We'll first talk about humans and then we’ll talk about our dogs and cats.
Coronaviruses are not new. They were first isolated in 1937 from a flock of poultry birds and were found to spread to the human population in the 1960s.
Coronaviruses, named because they have a crown like structure - “corona” originate in an animal species such as birds, bats, camels, monkeys or other and may mutate, allowing them spread to humans.
As we are witnessing first hand, with the increase in international travel, the spread of a new coronavirus can be astonishingly fast and a bit scary. So, it’s even more important to consider the spread of this virus in a reasonable and pragmatic way.
Let's break down the facts.
There are four fairly common coronaviruses that are responsible for a large number of upper respiratory infections in humans: (OC43, 229E, NL63, and HEU1). There are also coronaviruses that cause gastrointestinal issues as well as those that can create both respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.
For the vast majority of the population, COVID-19 will be viewed as a new respiratory disease that poses very little health risk. Estimates are that 80% of people who become infected with COVID-19 will not be sick enough to seek medical intervention.
For the 20% that must seek medical intervention, COVID-19 can be scary. This is particularly true as the risks increase as you get older and if you have existing health issues such as a weakened immune system, or an active disease process (cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc.). Your risks of infection and severity of symptoms are increased.
Based on the limited data as of March 3, 2020, the mortality rate by age would look something like this with zero deaths documented for children aged 0-9 years.
The average mortality rate based on the available data would be approximately 3.19%. Since the majority of people are by age in the middle, the estimated mortality rate is around 2%.
Important: Mortality rates are based upon the number of tested and verified reported cases. It is very possible many people (up to 80%) have had mild cases or cases without symptoms. These cases were not tested or reported and they recovered without hospital or medical intervention making the mortality rate much lower than what is represented in the data. Taking this into consideration the estimated mortality rate is thought to be closer to 1.4%.
Compared to other coronaviruses in humans, COVID-19 has a lower mortality rate than SARS (9.6%) and MERS (34%).
If we compare COVID-19 with the flu virus, the mortality rate (based on a 10 year study) of flu is 0.1% on average across all age groups.
The World Health Organization (WHO) puts the mortality rate at 0.46% based on all currently tested and untested cases as they estimate only 30% of the infections are tested and reported.
With the flu, the mortality rate of 0.1% is responsible for infecting approximately 5%-20% of the population with an estimated 30,000-40,000 deaths annually worldwide.
If we take the 3.14% estimate, the 1.4% estimate and the WHO 0.46% estimate, one thing is clear - COVID19 has a higher mortality rate than the flu (0.1%).
It is easy to extrapolate the numbers and cause panic. It is important to keep in mind that other viruses (bird flu, SARS, etc) have dissipated before it could infect on the scale of flu (typically 5-20% of the population). There are now two strains of the Coronavirus - one more aggressive than the other which will of course need to be analyzed.
If you are healthy, have a strong immune system, and don't smoke, recovery is in your favor even if you do get infected. The mortality rate with no pre-existing conditions is estimated to be 0.9%. Meaning, 99.91% of people infected will recover. If you are sick with any virus, you should limit your exposure to other people to stop the spread of disease.
If your immune system is not strong from chronic respiratory disease (6.3% mortality rate), cardiovascular disease (10.5% mortality rate), diabetes (7.3% mortality rate), hypertension (6% mortality rate), cancer (5.6% mortality rate), or an immune compromising disease (no available data), then you are at higher risk of infection and an increased risk for mortality by COVID-19. If you have cancer and your cell counts are low, you are at a significantly higher risk.
Because of my previous cancer, I have long term lung damage called interstitial lung disease from radiation and chemo that I received during my metastatic breast cancer treatment. This puts me in a higher risk bracket as my lungs are simply not as strong.
Incubation is the length of time from when you are exposed to the infectious agent and when you first exhibit symptoms.
This means the virus may be inside you replicating before you have symptoms or feel unwell.
As a result, you could potentially spread it before you even realize you are sick.
Scientists don't know how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces outside of the body but estimates currently project up to 9 days (depending on the type of surface).
Coronaviruses are not new to dogs and cats. Some kennel cough infections are caused by a coronavirus.
While we have seen the number of COVID-19 human infections grow rapidly, as of March 3, 2020, there has only been one "weak positive" test for a dog in Hong Kong, that has no symptoms of the virus. The test samples were from oral, nasal and rectal areas, not blood.
This indicates the virus was the result of environmental contamination; not a true infection. That dog is currently in quarantine and is being monitored. Hopefully this pup will be reunited with a recovered Mom soon!
At this time, there is no evidence that humans can spread the virus to dogs and cats. Nor is there any evidence that dogs and cats can become sick with COVID-19 and spread it to humans.
It is absolutely heart breaking to see dogs and cats being abandoned out of unfounded fear that they can spread disease. As we begin to understand and take steps to protect ourselves, keeping your dog or cat clean should be a consistent part of your normal routine.
If someone coughs or sneezes on your dog, they, like the dog in Hong Kong may have the virus on them. It doesn't mean they have COVID-19 or that they are sick or will get sick. It simply means they have it on them, much as you would have it on your person if someone sneezed on you.
If you touched your dog and picked up the virus and then touched your nose or mouth, you could infect yourself through contamination.
This would NOT be your dog passing the virus to you. It would be you giving yourself the virus through an environmental exposure.
Again ... there is absolutely no evidence that your dog or cat will become infected with COVID-19 even through direct exposure.
To limit your exposure, if your dog or cat has been around someone with COVID-19, the flu, or even a cold, they should get frequent baths to keep them as germ free as possible. This is just part of being a responsible dog parent.
In the winter, we turn the heat up a few notches, give the dogs a bath and once they have dried turn the heat back down. We may also blow dry them to take off the chill. We also make sure they have an opportunity to go potty before the bath so if it is cold outside we don't expose them to the cold while being damp from their bath.
Using 4-Legger USDA certified organic dog shampoo, you can bathe your dog or cat as often as needed. If someone in your house becomes sick, increase the frequency of baths if your dog hangs out with them.
You should also wash your dog more frequently if they are out and about. Just like you should wash your hands more frequently if you are out and about.
It is about limiting your exposure as well as your dog's exposure to viruses, using common sense and just being smart. You should NOT slather your dog in hand sanitizers. They can be very drying to the skin and depending on the ingredients, can pose some health concerns. Use them on yourself only if you have no option to wash your hands.
It is also important that you don't touch your dog or cat until you've washed your hands if you have been out of the house. [See our tips below.]
Our culture has become engrained with "get a flu shot" and less concerned about how to stop the spread through good hygiene and taking precautions. It is important to note that these tips are for all infectious disease - for colds, flu and coronaviruses.
We recommend these tips be followed all of the time but especially during outbreaks of any infectious disease:
Our #1 Tip:
Don't touch your face and wash your hands!
Infection spreads from your hands to your mouth and nose (mucous membranes) making it the #1 way germs are spread.
While there are limited studies that track how frequently people touch their face, one study estimated 23x an hour! Of those, 44% involved a mucous membrane (nose or mouth). Face touching is hands down (pun intended) the #1 way to self-infect!
Compare the number of times you touch your face to how many times you wash or sanitize your hands an hour and you'll quickly realize the dangers of frequently touching your face!
Fill up those foamer bottles at every sink with 4-Legger organic dog shampoo and be sure to wash your hands for 20-30 seconds each time!
Tips for at home (these are all things I did during my cancer treatment when cell counts were low):
Tips for on the go:
Good habits start with good hygiene. It is very hard to not touch your face if you are in the habit! Make it a game. If you see a family member touching their face blast a buzzer sound at them or make them put a dime in a jar.
COVID-19 Myths and Rumors
Here are some important facts to consider:
Keep you hands and pups clean and lower your risk of exposure to all germs!
The best way we can help each other and manage the onset of COVID-19 is to elevate our individual commitment to hygiene at home and out in the community.
Be proactive with yourself, your family and your pets and think in terms of prevention as you go through your day.