There are currently seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. Scientists believe that many of these viruses originated in bats, but can easily jump species. Now, scientists are saying dogs could be the next animal to infect humans with a variant.
In 2020, Gregory Gray, M.D., a professor of medicine, global health, and environmental health at Duke University, was on a team that developed a molecular diagnostic tool to detect coronaviruses. The team examined 301 pneumonia cases using the tool and found evidence of canine coronaviruses in eight people hospitalized with pneumonia in Sarawak, Malaysia.
They sent the samples to Dr. Anastasia Vlasova, a veterinarian and virologist at Ohio State University, who detected the virus in two of the eight samples. She proceeded to assemble the complete genome of the virus, which matched that of other known canine coronaviruses. This particular virus seemed to be a combination of two previously identified canine coronaviruses in addition to both a cat and pig coronavirus, both of which are common in dogs.
If the virus is confirmed as a human pathogen, it would be the first canine coronavirus known to cause disease in humans. Regardless, we shouldn't be fearful of man's best friend.
“How common this virus is, and whether it can be transmitted efficiently from dogs to humans or between humans, nobody knows,” said Gray. It's also possible that the virus made its way into the human body via an intermediary third species.
“At this moment we do not really have any reason to believe that this virus is going to be causing a pandemic,” Vlasova told the New York Times. Instead, the researchers see this as a call to action.
“These coronaviruses are likely spilling over to humans from animals much more frequently than we know,” said Gray. “We are missing them because most hospital diagnostic tests only pick up known human coronaviruses.”
Tools like the one that Gray and his team developed will be key to proactively searching for viruses like this that could jump from animals to humans before they cause a pandemic.