Other outlets took a different approach, Yahoo! opted for: “Child contracts a new coronavirus from a dog: Time to worry?” while Indian news site DNA ran the headline: “Study finds new COVID-19 infection from dogs is infecting children – All you need to know”.
The Glasgow Times also referred to the current pandemic-causing coronavirus in their headline “Concern over children catching new Covid strain from pet dogs” while this story was repeated across several Newsquest titles online, including the Harrow Times.
But is this a new coronavirus or a variant, a strain or something else entirely? And should you be worried?
The study shows a new coronavirus so Covid-19 should not be mentioned in the headline. It is not a new Covid strain, or Covid infection, it is a new coronavirus in the larger family of coronaviruses, encompassing hundreds of viruses. Research shows this coronavirus can jump from dogs to humans.
Most news outlets correctly reported this, but plenty also linked the story to Covid-19 in their headlines. While the temptation to tie this story to the big issue affecting us all is understandable, the pandemic has underlined the need for clear public health information to be clear and easy to understand.
While errors like the phrasing seen here are slight, they can have larger consequences such as sparking undue fear among dog owners, for example.
What did the researchers find? Scientists took nasal swabs of 301 patients treated in an East Malaysian hospital for pneumonia in 2018.
They found that eight patients, including seven children, was infected with a newly discovered coronavirus that the researchers have named CCoV-HuPn-2018.
All eight patients were treated and released after four to six days in hospital after being given oxygen to help them breathe.
Further study found the coronavirus had jumped from dogs to humans but there has, so far, been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
And, as most stories reported, there is so far no evidence of this coronavirus leading to a pandemic. However, one of the study’s authors, Anastasia Vlasova Ohio State University assistant professor, said: “I can’t say that’s never going to be a concern in the future.”
Instead Vlasova concluded that the study shows studying animal viruses is key to assessing future threats to human health. While the origins of Covid-19 are still unclear, scientists have long theorised the virus may have originated in animal host, possibly bats.
This study was published on May 20 as Covid restrictions were due to lift in the UK and there was widespread coverage of the so-called Indian variant. That is a strain of Covid-19. Strains are the result of mutations which give the virus different properties that may be advantageous.
Covering a fast-paced public health story like Covid-19 is difficult with information changing very quickly. This case underlines the need to check the information you read with multiple sources, including media outlets and official advice, and also to read beyond the headline.
The new coronavirus is the eighth known coronavirus that can affect humans
The first coronavirus that affected humans was discovered in 1965 by a team led by virologist David Tyrrell at the Common Cold Unit in Wiltshire
Alongside Covid-19, human coronaviruses include the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS (Source: WebMD)