H1N1 confirmed in cat

November 4, 2009 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

bigstockphoto_Cat_509682A cat in Iowa contracted the H1N1 influenza virus — the so-called “swine flu” — from his stricken family members. This is the first confirmed feline case of the disease, previously thought to affect only humans, birds and pigs.

There has also been a confirmed case in at least one ferret. While the ferret case isn’t too surprising — ferrets are notoriously susceptible to influenza viruses — the cat’s illness is causing concern among veterinarians and cat owners.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sent out a letter to its member veterinarians an hour and a half ago, informing them of the feline case. They also posted a public announcement on their website:

A cat in Iowa has tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, state officials confirmed this morning, marking the first time a cat has been diagnosed with this strain of influenza.

The cat, which has recovered, is believed to have caught the virus from someone in the household who was sick with H1N1. There are no indications that the cat passed the virus on to any other animals or people.

Prior to this diagnosis, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus had been found in humans, pigs, birds and ferrets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) are reminding pet owners that some viruses can pass between people and animals, so this was not an altogether unexpected event. Pet owners should monitor their pets’ health very closely, no matter what type of animal, and visit a veterinarian if there are any signs of illness.

The AVMA is actively tracking all instances of H1N1 in animals and posting updates on our Web site at www.avma.org/public_health/influenza/new_virus.

Pet Connection’s Dr. Tony Johnson acknowledges the concern that many people may feel about this, but asks them not to over-react. “The humans who gave the virus to their cat, and the cat, all recovered,” he said. “And there is no evidence H1N1 goes from cats to people; it was the other way around.”

I asked him why, if a virus can be passed from humans to cats, we shouldn’t be worried it can pass the other way, too.

“The answer is, we don’t know for sure,” he told me. “But sometimes a virus can make a host sick, but not reproduce and become infectious in that host. So far there is no evidence that this virus can be passed from cats to humans, although that doesn’t mean it can’t.”

The bottom line: “Think about this critically, and don’t make knee-jerk reactions,” he said. “Common sense and a cool head are better than flipping out and putting your cat out with the garbage.”

The AVMA said that owners who have the flu should try to avoid close contact with their cats. If your cat shows signs of respiratory illness, seek immediate veterinary care.

We’ll update as more information is available.


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