Usually when I sit down to think about a timely topic for our next newsletter, it takes a little “gray matter” and some creativity. This go-around the topic for all intensive purposes found me. In the world of health care, nothing is more timely than H1N1.
Influenza type H1N1 was first isolated from a pig in 1930. This new virus of today, although called “Swine Flu” is not the same virus and is primarily a human virus. This new virus was 1st reported in late March/early April, 2009 in central Mexico and the border states of California and Texas. Since then the virus has been reported worldwide. Genetic testing suggests that the virus originated in pigs, but we don’t know exactly when and where it crossed over to humans.
For veterinarians and pet owners, obviously the concern is whether or not the H1N1 virus can affect domestic pets. Until recently, we had no reason to believe pets could be infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus because it is very uncommon for flu viruses to jump between species. However, on October 9, 2009, a USDA laboratory confirmed 2009/H1N1 infection in a ferret. The ferret’s owner had recently been ill with the flu. Ferrets are more susceptible to infection with influenza viruses, so this was not altogether surprising. At this time, there are no reports of the 2009 H1N1 flu virus being transmitted from a ferret to a person.
On November 4, the Iowa State Veterinarian and the Iowa Department of Public Health announced that a pet cat was confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. The cat’s owners were ill and the cat developed respiratory symptoms shortly afterward. The cat has recovered and there is no evidence at this time that the cat passed the virus to any people. A second cat, this one in Utah, was confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus on November 13. Like the first cat, the cat’s owner was ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the cat’s illness. The cat had difficult breathing and was taken to a veterinarian for treatment. The cat is recovering from its illness.
Pets that live indoors, especially cats, tend to have close contact with their owners; after all, that’s why we have pets – and that increases their chances of being exposed to diseases. The best advice is to always follow common sense guidelines when dealing with animals (for example, washing your hands). In addition, it’s more important than ever that pet owners keep a good eye on their pet’s health and consult a veterinarian if their pet is showing any signs of illness. Keeping your pets healthy reduces their risk of becoming ill.
So far, there haven’t been any reports of dogs infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. Based on what’s been reported, ferrets and two cats – and probably dogs, if they can become infected with the virus; have shown signs of respiratory illness. These signs can include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, runny nose and/or eyes, sneezing, coughing, or changes in breathing (including difficulty breathing).
Finally, until we know more about the risks of spreading the virus from person to pet, pet to pet, or pet to person, it’s a good idea to limit contact between an ill family member and other family members and pets. If your pet is ill, contact your veterinarian.
(Source: American Veterinary Medical Association November 2009)
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