Efficient Direct and Limited Environmental Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Lineage B.1.22 in Domestic Cats

Gerhards, Nora M.; Gonzales, Jose L.; Vreman, Sandra; Ravesloot, Lars; van den Brand, Judith M.A.; Doekes, Harmen P.; Egberink, Herman F.; Stegeman, Arjan; Oreshkova, Nadia; van der Poel, Wim H.M.; de Jong, Mart C.M.


The susceptibility of domestic cats to infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated by several experimental studies and field observations. We performed an extensive study to further characterize the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between cats, through both direct and indirect contact. To that end, we estimated the transmission rate parameter and the decay parameter for infectivity in the environment. Using four groups of pair-transmission experiment, all donor (inoculated) cats became infected, shed virus, and seroconverted, while three out of four direct contact cats got infected, shed virus, and two of those seroconverted. One out of eight cats exposed to a SARS-CoV-2-contaminated environment became infected but did not seroconvert. Statistical analysis of the transmission data gives a reproduction number R0 of 2.18 (95% CI = 0.92 to 4.08), a transmission rate parameter b of 0.23 day21 (95% CI = 0.06 to 0.54), and a virus decay rate parameter m of 2.73 day21 (95% CI = 0.77 to 15.82). These data indicate that transmission between cats is efficient and can be sustained (R0 . 1), however, the infectiousness of a contaminated environment decays rapidly (mean duration of infectiousness 1/2.73 days). Despite this, infections of cats via exposure to a SARS-CoV-2-contaminated environment cannot be discounted if cats are exposed shortly after contamination. IMPORTANCE This article provides additional insight into the risk of infection that could arise from cats infected with SARS-CoV-2 by using epidemiological models to determine transmission parameters. Considering that transmission parameters are not always provided in the literature describing transmission experiments in animals, we demonstrate that mathematical analysis of experimental data is crucial to estimate the likelihood of transmission. This article is also relevant to animal health professionals and authorities involved in risk assessments for zoonotic spill-overs of SARS-CoV-2. Last but not least, the mathematical models to calculate transmission parameters are applicable to analyze the experimental transmission of other pathogens between animals.