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COVID questions: Dog park safety, antibody testing

September 3, 2020

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to covid19update@uc.wisc.edu.

Q: I’ve read that dogs can contract the virus, but I’m wondering how common this is and what the path of transmission is for dogs. Can COVID only spread human to dog? Dog to dog? Dog to human? Is it safe to go to dog parks? How risky is it if someone pets my dog?

A:  To date, SARS CoV2 infection (the cause of COVID-19 disease in people) has been reported in 10 dogs, including dogs in Hong Kong, The Netherlands, Denmark, and in North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana in the United States.  While there may be additional cases that have gone undetected, it is clear that the rate of infection in dogs is extremely low compared to that in humans – as of today (8/27/2020) there have been over 24 million human cases around the world!  And it appears that nearly all the infections in dogs were due to exposure to an infected person.  It remains to be determined whether the SARS CoV2 virus can be transmitted onward from dog-to-dog or dog-to-human.

So, is it safe to go to dog parks?  In my opinion yes, but all of the same commonsense public health rules should apply in the dog park: maintain physical distance from other people, wear a mask (and wear it properly covering your mouth and nose), and stay home if you are feeling ill. And of course, take the appropriate precautions to keep you and your dog safe for reasons other than COVID-19: know how your dog behaves and leash him/her if they don’t play well with other dogs; be sure your dog is healthy and current on its vaccinations, including rabies, and heartworm preventative; pick up your dog’s waste and dispose of it properly; and be sure to bring water and limit activity of these hot ‘dog days’ of summer.

– Christopher W. Olsen, director, Graduate/Professional and Capstone Certificates in Global Health; School of Medicine and Public Health

Q: Please explain antibody testing, in relation to COVID-19.  Would it be feasible to get an antibody test done before a vaccine?

A: At present, there is no push to assess antibody status prior to vaccination. There are two vaccines in advanced testing in the United States, but may be several more months until they’re available to our population.  Again, because of problems with false positive and negative results, vaccination (when available) will be recommended without prior antibody testing.

– Jonathan Temte, professor of family medicine

Q: What are the consequences of testing positive for antibodies?  Everyone in my household tested positive for antibodies (test done early June at UW Hospital).  We continue to wear a mask and keep our distance from others when in public, but what are the chances of getting infected or infecting someone else again? If we get infected again would it be milder or more severe than the first time?

A: Testing for antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 can be helpful in determining whether an individual has been infected with, and mounted an immune response to SARS-CoV-2.  Unfortunately, the current antibody tests are less than perfect and can provide false positive results (suggesting that one has encountered the virus when one has not) and false negative results (indicating no immunity when there may be some). In addition, we do not know how long antibodies will last and the extent to which or duration for which someone is protected following infection.

In general, the odds are in your favor that you have some protection from a future infection, at least in the near term. Keep in mind, however, that false positive results do occur and can lead one to a sense of false security.

We think that second infections are likely to be less severe, but there are reports in the medical literature of much more severe cases occurring after an initial illness episode. We do not have enough evidence to know whether these are reinfections, or reactivation of an existing infection.

– Jonathan Temte, professor of family medicine

See more answers to COVID questions hereherehereherehereherehere and here. Also, visit our COVID-19 impact site.