Flu season has started, and this brings up questions every year. Now that swine flu has become prominent in the media, this is even more of an issue, and makes people concerned about their pets and human families. So I thought that I would address some of these things with some facts and help correct some misconceptions.
* Regular influenza causes 250,000-500,000 deaths globally every year. Swine flu (H1N1) caused a little over 3,000 deaths last year. Yes, there is a growing concern, but it's not necessarily a worse disease. Seasonal flu leads to death in less than 0.1% of infections. Swine flu leads to death in 0.007-0.045% of cases. So someone please tell me why the world seems up in arms about swine flu.
* Swine flu does not infect pets, and cannot be transmitted between dogs, cats, and people. You simply don't have to worry about it. Likewise, seasonal flu cannot be transmitted to pets. With one exception....
*Ferrets are very susceptible to the human influenza virus, and anyone with these as pets need to be very careful if anyone in the family is diagnosed with flu.
* There is a canine influenza virus. It is NOT contagious to humans. We're just starting to learn about this disease as it is newly emerging, having been first identified in the pet population in 2005. Almost all dogs who are exposed become infected. Of these infections, about 80% result in clinical signs and 20% are asymptomatic carriers. Canine flu is fatal in less than 8% of cases. Unfortunately it resembles kennel cough and similar upper respiratory diseases and is difficult to specifically diagnose, so it may not be identified by a vet. There are no common antivirals for dogs, so care is usually supportive and nonspecific. A vaccine was just recently approved, but hasn't become wide-spread yet. I haven't personally diagnosed a case yet, but I'm starting to recommend testing more, and I may have overlooked it since it can seem like other diseases.
Other than the ferrets I mentioned, you don't have to worry about flu going between pets and people, so there is no need to panic. But if anyone in your family has suspicions of having the flu, see your doctor right away and make sure to practice basic hygiene.