Winston, the first dog believed to have contracted the coronavirusin the U.S.,can now rest easy. The adorable, viral pug actually never had the virus, theU.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed.

This revelation comes as the USDA, the department responsible for confirmingCOVID-19 cases in animals, announced the first official case of thecoronavirus in a dog, a German shepherd in New York.

That dog, according to the USDA report published Tuesday, showed signs ofrespiratory illness after two of the dog’s owners exhibited symptoms ofCOVID-19 and one of them tested positive. Another dog in the house did nottest positive or show symptoms but had antibodies.

The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories tested Winston “but wereunable to verify infection,” agency representative Lyndsay Cole told USATODAY.

“The weak detection … from the original oral swab may be the result ofcontamination from the COVID-19 positive household,” she said in a statement.

Three of Winston’s human family members — Dr. Heather McLean, Sam McLean andtheir son — tested positive for COVID-19 in March, and researchers at DukeUniversity, where Heather works, administered tests on everyone in thehousehold as part of a study on how the coronavirus can be treated.

Dr. Shelley Rankin, a professor of veterinary microbiology at University ofPennsylvania who is unaffiliated with the Duke study, told USA TODAY thatthere may have been discrepancies in how research labs such as Duke’s andveterinary diagnostic labs such as USDA’s facilitate testing and the handlingof the infected specimen.

“Samples can be positive initially but can be degraded with specimenhandling,” Rankin said.

Rankin explained that false positives “can also occur if the original specimenhad a very low number of organisms.”

Guidance from veterinary groups, including the American Veterinary MedicalAssociation, has largely remained the same: It remains unlikely that householdpets can contract COVID-19, and no evidence has been found to suggest thatanimals can transmit the disease to humans.

Still, Rankin suggests avoiding contact with your pets if you have COVID-19.If you are unable to find someone else to take care of your pet, the AVMAsuggests that you wear a mask with every interaction and wash your handsbefore and after.

Source: Joshua Bote USA TODAY

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