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Friday, November 6, 2009

No Longer "Swine" Flu

The spread of the H1N1 influenza virus, commonly called swine flu, has been a bit of a panic for many people world-wide. Back in September I blogged about the flu, and said that pets couldn't get it.  I made that statement because at the time there was no evidence of that.  I now have to change that opinion. 

Here in the US it has been confirmed that at least one cat became sick with H1N1, though it survived.  Several ferrets have been confirmed to contract it and died.  This last fact is not surprising, as ferrets are very susceptible to human influenza viruses.  But the fact that a cat contracted it is more concerning.

Viruses can mutate to change and affect different species.  The virus we now call parvo mutated from the feline panleukopenia virus to be able to affect dogs.  Now only canines can get parvo even though is started as a strain of feline disease.  HIV mutated from a monkey disease to affect humans.  Avian flu has changed to be able to affect species other than birds.  And now H1N1 is affecting species it has never been seen in.

As scary as this may seem on the surface, I would caution people not to panic.  In the recent cases of this cat and the ferrets, the pets acquired the disease from their owners, not the other way around.  And these are extremely isolated cases, the only ones documented so far.  However, if the disease goes one way it can also go another, so a risk of transmission from pets to people is not impossible.  Sick pets should be taken to see the vet, but any human risk is extremely low.  Be cautious, but don't be overly concerned.