Despite the daily barrage of information, many are still confused about the coronavirus, and what COVID-19 means for their family members—two- and four-legged. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions we hear. 

Question: What is a virus?

Answer: If you enjoyed blowing bubbles as a kid, the circular structure you created can help with understanding the structure of a virus. The bubble you created would be the virus’ outermost structure, and inside the bubble is its genetic information, either DNA or RNA (i.e., ribonucleic acid, whose principal role is acting as a messenger, carrying genetic instructions from the DNA). Think of the genetic material as blueprints that direct a cell what to build.

In reality, of course, a virus is tiny—smaller than bacteria. The human eye is unable to see bacteria, and a virus can be one-eighth to one-hundredth the size of a bacterium.  

A virus travels to certain body cells, and adds its DNA or RNA to the host cell’s genetic material. The host cell then copies the virus’ genetic material, following the virus blueprints, and produces virus components, which assemble and form a brand new virus particle. Thus, the initial virus “particle” that infected the host cell is replicated into thousands more, which infect other host cells, or are released into the environment, when someone coughs, sneezes, or simply breathes. 

Q: What is a coronavirus?

A: Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. Compare your family tree with your neighbor’s—you are different families, but you all are humans. Coronaviruses are one of many families of viruses, whose members tend to act similarly, but may have subtle differences. COVID-19 is a coronavirus family member that mainly tends to affect the human respiratory system, but may also affect the gastrointestinal system. Other coronaviruses include canine and feline coronaviruses, and the human coronaviruses SARS and MERS, all which affect each species’ respiratory or gastrointestinal system, and do not tend to jump from one species to another. 

Q: Why is COVID-19 called a ‘novel’ coronavirus?

A: The term “novel” coronavirus means COVID-19 is a brand new coronavirus that has never before affected the human species—it’s like welcoming a new family member into our lives. COVID-19 means “COronaVIrus Disease discovered in 2019.”

Q: How do viruses spread?

A: Viruses can spread a variety of ways, but they generally spread through what the affected organ system produces; for example, COVID-19 affects the lungs, and is spread when an infected individual breathes and coughs on a person or object. After a virus infects the host’s cells and reproduces, virus particles can be dislodged and expelled—by coughing, for instance. The virus particles are then inhaled by another person, they attach to that person’s pulmonary cells, and an infection is created in the new person, or host. 

Q: Can viruses spread between humans and animals?

A: Currently, more than a million people are infected with COVID-19 worldwide. The virus also has been detected in a few U.S. household pets—one dog and two cats—and eight cases in wild felines from the Bronx Zoo. Most of these infected animals resulted from close contact between the animals and infected owners or caretakers. Therefore, infected pets are considered the exception, not the rule, and unlikely as factors in spreading COVID-19. Currently, no evidence has been found that infected animals can spread the virus to humans.  

Q: How can I best protect my pet from COVID-19? 

A: The American Veterinary Medical Association has issued many recommendations for keeping pets safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although few pets have tested positive, out of an abundance of caution, our Groves Veterinary Clinic team recommends that you exercise social distancing with your pets, as well as people. That means not allowing your dog to interact with other dogs, or people, during walks, and keeping cats indoors. Also, if you become infected with COVID-19, you should ask a family member, neighbor, or friend to care for your pet while you are sick. Chances are low that your pet will become infected, but minimal contact is the safest course of action. 

These are likely only some of the questions you have, so call us if you have more, or if you are worried about your pet becoming ill.