The Hong Kong branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) says people should not  dispose of their pets because of their fear of the Wuhan virus, which has so far killed 26 people in China.

While the mainland is still investigating the original source of the virus, some Hong Kongers have recently disposed of pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs.

“The coronavirus is currently an issue primarily in certain areas of China and steps are being taken to control its spread,” Jane Gray, deputy director (veterinary services) and chief veterinary surgeon, told Asia Times.

“We appeal to pet owners not to make any hasty knee-jerk reactions regarding their pets but to listen to advice from health and veterinary professionals,” Gray said.

She added that during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian flu outbreaks in the past, there was an increase in the number of animals of all species handed over to the SPCA.

In the face of the current outbreak of the Wuhan virus in China, the SPCA would like to remind the public that as with SARS, companion animals are not currently believed to pose a health threat.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said earlier this month that there was a high chance the Wuhan coronavirus was transmitted to wild animals from bats and then mutated before it spread to humans.

Zhong Nanshan, who heads a National Health Commission team of experts, said rhizomys, a type of rodent, and badgers could be the original sources of the Wuhan virus. Zhong said people could be infected with the coronavirus if the meat of the rhizomys was not fully-cooked or properly handled.

It has been difficult to trace the source of the Wuhan virus as the municipal government closed the Huanan Seafood Market early this month, Guan Yi, the director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Center of Influenza Research at the University of Hong Kong, said in an interview with Chinese media.

While it remained unclear whether the Wuhan virus came from bats, rhizomys or badgers, an article published by a team of Chinese experts in the Journal of Medical Virology on Wednesday pointed out that it could be transmitted by bats to snakes and then to humans.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, the coronavirus was transmitted from bats to masked palm civets and then to humans.

Fears of the coronavirus aside, people also tend to abandon their pets before Chinese New Year as a part of their annual home clean-up .

Abandonment cases have traditionally surged before Chinese New Year, Gray said. “Sometimes, we even have people queue up in our reception hall waiting to desert their animals.”

Some owners abandon their animals before Chinese New Year as they believed that old animals might bring them bad luck in the following year for reasons relating to feng shui, she said.

The SPCA would like to remind pet owners that animals are family members for life. Gray added that abandoned animals may suffer from emotional and physical stress that take a long time to recover from.

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