Are you ready for the dog and cat flu?

December 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

WoodyWelcome to the world of influenza, a virus with a dazzling ability to mutate, cross species, and in general stay one step ahead of the immune systems of mammals and birds – including human beings and our family pets. From my column today on

The first cases in pets were reported in ferrets, which are notoriously prone to influenza viruses. But when the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported last month that a sick cat in Iowa had the disease, epidemiologists and virologists took notice. It was the first time a cat had become ill from an influenza virus.

Since then, two more sick cats, one of whom died, tested positive for H1N1, and Chinese officials announced Saturday that they had isolated the virus in two sick dogs.

Dr. Tony Johnson, a clinical assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, said that it doesn’t look like our pets are a risk to us.

In fact, we’re a risk to them — every cat that’s been diagnosed with H1N1 lived with a human who had a respiratory illness shortly before the cat became sick.

H1N1 made history as the first influenza virus to make a cat sick, but the real history was made five years ago, when canine influenza was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida.

The H1N1 outbreak isn’t the first time an influenza virus has adapted to be able to cause illness in a dog, however.That occurred in 2004, when an equine influenza virus, H3N8, was identified as the cause of a deadly outbreak of respiratory disease in racing greyhounds in Florida.

Woody, a flat-coated retriever, is a healthy adult dog today, but when he was just a puppy in Texas, he came down with what his breeder thought was “kennel cough,” the dog version of a cold.

But what Woody had was something no one thought to look for, a brand new virus that posed a serious risk to very young, very old and immune-compromised dogs.

“He spent the next month at the vet school at Texas A&M, fighting for his life,” said his owner, Gina Spadafori, who lives in Sacramento. “He survived, but he was weak and spent many weeks recuperating after that.”

The bug that almost killed Woody was a viral changeling dubbed H3N8. Originally thought only to affect horses, it had adapted itself to be able to cause disease in another species, the dog.

Once researchers started looking for H3N8, they found dogs carrying the virus in 30 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, a wide distribution suggesting it had been spreading without detection for quite some time.

Read the rest here.…

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