Gillian Cunningham
Gillian Cunningham
Helios Scholar
School: Northern Arizona University
Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
Mentor: Hayley Yaglom-Hemmelgarn, MS, MPH
PI: Dave Engelthaler, PhD

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Investigation of SARS-CoV-2 exposures in dogs and assessment of biosecurity practices in animal shelter settings

Since the start of the pandemic, animals have been shown to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Animals, including dogs, currently do not play a significant role in the transmission and maintenance of the virus. We conducted a surveillance study aimed at exploring possible mechanisms of viral exposure within animal shelters and assessing biosecurity practices. Nasal swabs and blood samples were collected from 80 dogs, from three Arizona animal shelters. SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR and viral neutralizing antibody testing were performed. We obtained information on dog demographics, health history, housing, and interactions with people and other animals. A biosecurity survey was also administered to ascertain information on overall infrastructure, staffing, cleaning, disinfection, and personal protective equipment (PPE) use. Responses from the survey were used to assess risk factors contributing to potential viral exposure to dogs at the shelters. Based on the data collected, the average length of time dogs spent in the shelter was 48.7 days. No dogs were found to have active infection, and two dogs (2.5%) were found to have evidence of neutralizing antibodies. A review of biosecurity assessment responses revealed that a) all three animal shelters have isolation areas and infection control protocols, b) standard PPE like gloves are available, but the frequency of use varies, and c) staff, volunteers, and the public have frequent interactions with the dogs. Continued One Health surveillance efforts are needed to better understand the dynamics of viral transmission risk across the human-animal interface and develop guidance for public health and veterinary partners.