H1N1 Swine Flu Can Infect Some Pets (cont.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) summarizes the current H1N1 pet situation: Infections in pets seem to be "isolated events that pose no special risks to human health." The WHO officials go on to say, "These recent findings further suggest that influenza A viruses in animals and humans increasingly behave like a pool of genes circulating among multiple hosts, and that the potential exists for novel influenza viruses to be generated in animals other than swine. This situation reinforces the need for close monitoring and close collaboration between public health and veterinary authorities." I agree with that suggestion but wonder if we are doing enough to protect humans from the next potential pandemic influenza A virus. Perhaps we should consider including another virus (for example, H5N1) as part of the seasonal inactivated virus vaccine (currently composed of three virus strains) one year and maybe a H3N8 in another year. If this was done over time, it may allow people some cross-protection against emergent influenza strains and increase human herd immunity.

So, what can you do to protect pets from the flu? The answer is to follow the guidelines suggested by the CDC; they are as follows:

If you are sick with influenza-like illness, take the same precautions with your pets that you would to keep your family and friends healthy:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.

  • Wash your hands frequently.

  • Minimize contact with your pets until 24 hours after your fever is gone.

There is no H1N1 vaccine available for pets; there is a H3N8 vaccine for dogs, but it will not protect against H1N1 flu and is not recommended for any other species.

So, what can you do if you suspect your pet is infected with H1N1 flu? The CDC and I agree...Contact your veterinarian. For most pets, only supportive care will be available, although some veterinarians may choose to give antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial pneumonia. Although no documented transfers of H1N1 infections from pets to humans have been documented, it seems reasonable to isolate a suspected H1N1-infected pet from humans who are at high risk for getting complications from H1N1 infections (for example, pregnant individuals, infants and young children, immunocompromised people, or individuals with chronic problems such as asthma or other pulmonary problems) until the pet is fully recovered or is proven not to have H1N1 infection.

Cats, dogs, birds, pigs, humans, and many other animals have in common the ability to be infected by flu viruses. Over time, these viruses change to produce some flu types that are able to infect multiple species simultaneously. Unfortunately, the H1N1 virus seems to be able to accomplish this task with efficiency in humans, pigs, and in some birds, but less so in house pets like cats and ferrets, and not well, if at all, in dogs. If we have learned anything about flu viruses, we know this current situation will somehow change. Recently, the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has decided to begin H1N1 testing on animals to monitor animal H1N1 infections. Keep informed.







Last Editorial Review: 11/10/2009 5:31:36 PM