Are You A Danger To Your Cat?

Think you might be coming down with something? If you think you're getting the H1N1 flu you might think about keeping a distance from your loved ones so you won't cough or sneeze on them or otherwise spread your germs. But they aren't the only ones to whom you pose a danger—your pets are susceptible, too.

In early November, 2009, veterinarians in the U.S. reported that a pet cat had come down with swine flu a few days after his owners reported flu-like symptoms. One case may have been brushed off, but as it turns out, two pet ferrets caught the flu, again with the apparent source of infection their owners, and numerous pig herds around the world have gone on record as having been infected with the pandemic virus.

It has long been known that animals can be a source of infection to humans. As a matter of fact, influenza originated in birds and ducks. The origins of AIDS seem to be from chimps and gorillas and the Ebola virus originated in bats. Rabies can be spread by a variety of species to humans.

Jumping Species

But back to H1N1, which may have started in pigs but is now infecting humans in an almost exclusive manner. On the other hand, it now seems it can go the other way, as well. "This is just another illustration of why influenza viruses are so tricky and frustrating and interesting at the same time, is this ability to occasionally jump species," said Dr. Carolyn Bridges from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Bridges says it isn't known, nor is it possible to know the number of pets infected with H1N1 as a result of exposure to their flu-ridden owners. In the case of the aforementioned pet cat, the owners lived near an animal laboratory of some sophistication in the state of Iowa in which the vets decided to run the influenza test because they were curious. This particular cat was lucky because it survived.

Be Prudent

However, even testing isn't a true measure for determining who does and doesn't have the flu within a given populace. Even in humans, ordinary flu tests may not find H1N1 and not all physicians have access to the more sophisticated testing method that is needed to diagnose the condition. Therefore, says Bridges, it pays to be prudent when flu season is upon us. "We have a great deal more disease now than we have in a typical flu season," said Bridges in a telephone interview.