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This is from a regular NPR Feature, Goats and Soda:

I was wondering if it is safe to cuddle baby goats during COVID? It would be a private cuddle session, so only my household, but the goats might cuddle other people that same day. I figured "Goats and Soda" may be able to help!


Sterling news for the cuddling baby goats industry: If you're generally careful, do a private cuddle-sesh and follow all the usual pandemic precautions - it's a go!

"In the general sense, it's safe to do," says Jonathan Runstadler, who studies how emerging viruses transmit in animal hosts at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

To understand the mechanics of why that's the case, Runstadler points to two possible transmission pathways which might cause COVID-19 to move from an animal to a human, particularly in the goats scenario - both of which are pretty low risk.

The first risk is the chance that the adorable goats contract COVID-19 themselves (oh heavens no!) - maybe from another group of people who played with them - and transmit the virus to an unlucky bunch of cuddle-loving humans.

But while COVID-19 has been detected in animals - a handful of documented infections of cats and dogs, some infected tigers at the zoo and minks in mink farms - Runstadler says it's "really unlikely" for transmission to happen directly from animal to human, based on what current studies are showing.

Even though some cases of animal to human transmission have been documented, particularly in the case of high-intensity mink farming, it's usually not a huge risk.

A bigger concern, says Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is the possibility that an infected person could expel viral particles onto the animal's fur, which could then be picked up by humans who pet the animal. Runstadler agrees.


In technical terms, this is the route of fomite - or surface-level - transmission. That is a higher risk than direct goat-to-human transmission through airborne particles. But experts agree it's still pretty low in the grand scheme of things. Especially because studies show that the virus does less well at spreading via surfaces than through the air.

Plus, the fur of a goat might have an advantage over other surfaces here: "There's some work that shows that the virus can be picked up much less frequently from organic surfaces," Runstadler says. "So, for example, the hair of a goat."

Runstadler says there's a "low possibility" of infection happening this way. But the risk is certainly not nonexistent. The best thing to do is follow all of the typical guidelines to prevent infection when you go to cuddle the goats, and the risk will likely be "negligible," Dr. Abraar Karan says.

"I would wear a mask and wash hands, and use hand sanitizer after playing with the goats," Kratt says. "Practice social distancing [with other goat-cuddlers] and try not to touch your face or eyes before washing your hands."

And perhaps this is a good time to pivot away from the pandemic and share another bit of goat advice from those lazy, hazy days before the pandemic. If a goat eats poison ivy (and they can with no ill effect) and you drink that goat's milk - no worries, it won't give you a rash!

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance health journalist in Minneapolis. She's written about COVID-19 for many publications including Medscape, Kaiser Health News, Science News for Students and The Washington Post. More at sheilaeldred.pressfolios.com. On Twitter: @milepostmedia
 
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