Three members of the McClean family — Sam McClean, wife Heather and their son, Ben — contracted Covid-19 last month. Sydney McClean, the couple’s daughter, was the only family member to never show any symptoms.
Chris Woods, the principal investigator of the study, said researchers have also been collecting samples from family pets to see how coronavirus spreads in households. Researchers did not use the commercial tests that are in high demand around the world to test the animals.
Although they haven’t tested many pets, Winston’s sample is the only one that’s come back positive. He is believed to be the first dog in the country to test positive for the virus, according to the university.
“His (Winston’s) amount of virus that we detected was very low, suggesting that he would not be a likely mechanism or vector of transmission of virus to either other animals or to, to humans in these households,” Woods said.
Sam McClean, a researcher and emergency room doctor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was the first member of the family to get sick, his wife Heather McClean said. He had treated Covid-19 patients before he got sick.
Winston did show some minor symptoms while his family was also sick.
“He had a small cough for a day or two right in the peak when all of us were sick and he didn’t eat his breakfast one morning,” Ben McClean told CNN. “But we didn’t have any concrete, like, super alarming illnesses where we’re like, ‘we need to take him to the vet. He’s like really sick.'”
Woods said researchers don’t know if coronavirus made Winston sick, or if he had an unrelated ailment.
The McCleans have another dog and a cat, whose tests were negative.
Winston tends to lick things and likes to spend more time around his family, Heather McClean said. Their cat is more aloof, and their older pug likes to sleep most of the time.
“Winston is much more affectionate and we hold them all the time,” she told CNN. “So if any of the animals were to have a positive viral test, it would be him.”
“I would not change our, our behaviors with our household animals at this point. They’re really an important part of our ongoing mental health as we continue to participate in our social distancing to combat the pandemic,” Woods said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said in a press briefing last week that “there is no evidence whatsoever that we’ve seen, from an epidemiological standpoint, that pets can be transmitters within the household.”
William Schaffner, a professor of preventative medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said that it is extremely rare for a virus to jump from an animal to a human.
“We still don’t think this is common and we certainly don’t think it’s a major route of transmission in either direction,” Schaffner said. “It’s not common for people to give it to their pets, nor has it been demonstrated ever that anyone’s ever gotten this virus from a pet.”
Schaffner said it would be a good idea for people who are sick to social distance themselves from their pets, as well as their family members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made similar recommendations.