Swine Flu – Can pets get it? Can they give it to you?

By Nancy Johnson DVM
Veterinary Hospital, Eugene
We care about pets and their people

This year, 2009, swine flu has affected people all over the world. In most cases it causes fever and respiratory disease which responds well to supportive care. Most people are sick for about a week and then recover.  However, swine flu or pandemic H1N1 influenza (it’s more scientific name) has resulted in hospitalization and death is some cases. An estimated 1200 Oregonians have been hospitalized with swine flu this year, and over 60 deaths in Oregon have been attributed to this viral disease (data from www.flu.oregon.gov )

Recently we’ve learned that our pets can be infected with H1N1 influenza, and many people are concerned that their pets may pose a risk to their family.  The USDA reports  as of 12/4/09 in the USA there have been confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in pigs, ferrets, cats, one cheetah, and turkeys. In Oregon five ferrets have tested positive for the virus, and all survived the illness. Two Oregon cats were confirmed to have H1N1 influenza, and sadly both of these cats did die as a result of their illness. To date no dogs have been confirmed with the H1N1 influenza in the United States, though there has been an outbreak of a dog specific flu (H3N8) with similar symptoms.

In all cases of pets infected with H1N1 influenza it appears that the pet caught the disease from an infected human household member. There have been, to date, no human cases in which it appears that the disease was transmitted from pet to person. World Health Organization investigators state “no evidence has suggested that animals play any particular role in the epidemiology or the spread of the pandemic H1N1 2009 virus among humans. Instead, investigations led by competent national authorities point to possible human-to animal transmission in most cases.”(www.oie.int/eng/press/en-091104.htm) Nonetheless, disease control experts do suggest the quarantine of infected animals, just as they recommend the quarantine of infected people.

In pets the disease is similar to what is seen in people. Affected animals usually  appear to have a respiratory infection – sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and generally depressed or lethargic behavior. If your pet shows these symptoms please contact your veterinarian.  If human family members are affected with the flu keep a close eye on the pets; by the time a person shows symptoms, that person has already started shedding virus and the pets have already been exposed. As mentioned above it is wise to keep affected individuals, pets and human alike, quarantined (confined to the home) to decrease the chance of spreading the disease to others. While there is vaccine for H1N1 available for people, there is, to date, no H1N1 vaccine available for pets.

In summary, yes pets may contract the H1N1 influenza virus from humans, but the risk is low, and the chance of them being a source of disease to their human families is even lower. If your pet shows symptoms of serious respiratory disease contact your veterinarian.  For the most up-to-date information on Oregon pets and the H1N1 influenza virus check the website for the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (www.oregonvma.org).

– By Nancy Johnson DVM
Veterinary Hospital, Eugene

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