200402-A-SO154-005.JPGStaff Sgt. Robyn Peck, Public Health Activity-Fort Gordon, Fort Jackson Branch, draws blood from a military working dog. Capt. Amanda Jeffries, veterinarian and handler hold the dog still as his blood is drawn. The dog was tested for parasites as part of a routine checkup. (Photo by Ms. Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Leader)

By Ms. Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Leader

The amount of misinformation spreading across social media sites has risen exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. One topic raising concerns is the question of pets and whether they can be infected by the 2019 novel coronavirus.

“Coronaviruses are not new and have been around for a long time,” said Capt. Amanda Jeffries, Public Health Activity-Fort Gordon, Fort Jackson Branch. “The version that we are dealing with, COVID-19, is a novel version of the coronavirus. It’s one that affects humans and not our dogs or cats.”

Jeffries operates the Fort Jackson veterinarian office along with a small staff of Soldiers and civilians. While the current 2019 novel coronavirus is spreading among human populations globally, she dispelled the myth that pets are spreading the virus because they are infected.

“It’s not true,” she said. “There is no true evidence out there that dogs and cats can transmit it to humans.”

The myth of pet-to-human transmission began in China as news headlines reported two pets testing positive for COVID-19. While these pets did test “weakly positive” for COVID-19, it is considered extremely rare and experts believe resulted from their owners transmitting the virus to their pets whom carried the virus on their fur.

“Possible particles that do cause infection for humans can land on your pet,” Jeffries said. “If you touch your pet then rub your face that would be the transmission we see not the dog or cat passing this infection on because they are infected.”

Jeffries explained that healthy people should not touch pets that they do not own and if they do, to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water afterwards. She also recommends that people infected with the COVID-19 virus not spend long amounts of time in close proximity to their pets in order to prevent surface to surface transfer.

The Fort Jackson veterinarian office remains open at this time, but has reduced the schedule to prevent crowding in the waiting area. Pets are being seen and prioritized by their needs such as vaccinations for puppies, acute care for older dogs and sick call for animals with illnesses.

Medications for pets are still available; however, Staff Sgt. Robyn Peck, the office’s non-commissioned officer in charge, recommends calling the office before picking up medications to reduce wait times and better enable social distancing.

“Give us a call ahead of time so we can have the prescription ready before your arrival,” Peck said. “That way we get you checked out as quickly as possible and eliminate any crowding.”

Surgeries at the office are currently postponed until the pandemic ends and needed medical supplies become readily available.

“Our most important patients will always be military working dogs,” Peck said. “We are conserving our protective equipment (in case of working dog emergencies).”

Peck also recommended pet owners seek and make contact with their closest emergency pet care center in the event of emergencies.

“We are mostly a wellness and minor sick call clinic,” Peck said. “We can do basic on-going health care needs, vaccinations and minor sick call issues, but we are not open 24/7. Please have an off-post vet clinic available.”

With reduced appointments, some of the vet office staff have been reallocated to Fort Jackson Medical Treatment Facilities to assist with other operations during the pandemic.

“We are planning to operate the clinic as we have been,” Jeffries said. “We are going to do our best to maintain our operations so we can maintain continuity of care.”

The Fort Jackson Veterinary Office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To make an appointment, call 751-7160.