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Prevalence of anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 antibodies in cats in Germany and other European countries in the early phase of the coronavirus disease-19 pandemic

During the first months of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), cases of human-to-cat transmission were reported. Seroconversion was shown in cats infected under experimental and natural conditions. This large-scale survey of 1,005 serum samples was conducted to investigate anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in domestic cats during the first 7 months of the pandemic in Germany and other European countries. In addition, we compared the sensitivity and specificity of two multispecies SARS-CoV-2 antibody enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). Results were confirmed by using an indirect immunofluorescence test (iIFT) and a surrogate virus neutralization test (sVNT). Sera that were highly positive for feline coronavirus (FCoV) antibodies (n = 103) were included to correct for cross-reactivity of the tests used. Our results showed an overall SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity of 1.9% (n = 19) in a receptor-binding domain (RBD)-based ELISA, additional 0.8% (n = 8) were giving inconclusive results. In contrast, a nucleocapsid-based ELISA revealed 0.5% (n = 5) positive and 0.2% (n = 2) inconclusive results. While the iIFT and sVNT confirmed 100% of positive and 50%–57.1% of the doubtful results as determined in the RBD ELISA, the nucleocapsid-based assay showed a high discrepancy and only one of the five positive results could be confirmed. The results indicate significant deficits of the nucleocapsid-based ELISA with respect to sensitivity and specificity. Due to a significantly higher rate (5.8%) of positive results in the group of highly FCoV antibody-positive samples, cross-reactivity of the FCoV-ELISA with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies cannot be excluded. Furthermore, we investigated the impact of direct contact of domestic cats (n = 23) to SARS-CoV-2 positive owners. Considering one inconclusive result, which got confirmed by iIFT, this exposure did not lead to a significantly higher prevalence (4.4%; p = .358) among tested subjects. Overall, we conclude that cats are a negligible entity with respect to virus transmission in Europe.



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