The Flu, Your Pets and You

by DFS-Pet-Blog on October 29, 2009


Everywhere you turn lately you hear about the 2009 H1N1 flu, flu shots, what to do to protect yourself from the flu, and more.

Two types of viruses, Influenza A and Influenza B. can cause influenza, or the “flu”. H1N1 is an influenza A virus. There are many types of influenza A viruses, some of which will be in the regular seasonal “flu shot” you may elect to receive this fall. This seasonal flu shot contains some types of influenza B viruses, too. The H1N1 virus is not included in this regular “flu shot”, but a separate vaccine is available and is currently being given to persons at increased risk of acquiring the H1N1 flu.

Why is the H1N1 virus sometimes referred to as “swine flu”?
(The following answer is from the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association e-newsletter, November 2009.)

“The current virus in this pandemic may have its roots – going back as many as ten years – in swine, but today there’s absolutely, positively no direct association with pigs,” explained Christopher W. Olsen, DVM PhD, professor of Public Health and associate dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Since 1992, Dr. Olsen has been involved with UW research related to how viruses move between animals and people.

The “swine flu” misnomer comes from the fact that H1N1 in humans is genetically close to influenza viruses found in pigs. However, as Dr. Olsen clarified, H1N1 is airborne, affecting the lungs and respiratory system, and not at all a food-borne illness, so there’s no risk associated with handling or eating pork. The risk of becoming infected with the pandemic H1N1 virus is not from contact with animals; H1N1 is spreading person-to-person, not animal-to-person.

Dogs and the FluWhat about your pets and the flu?
On October 9, 2009, a ferret in Oregon was diagnosed with the 2009 H1N1 virus. The virus has also been found in pigs and turkeys, but pork and poultry products continue to be safe to eat. H1N1 is not a food-borne virus. Dogs can get canine influenza, but this is a totally different virus. To date, there is no evidence that cats or dogs are susceptible to the 2009 H1N1 virus.

Update November 4, 2009. Another ferret, which lived in Nebraska, has also been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. In addition, a cat that lived in a household with multiple people who were ill was diagnosed as having H1N1. In each case of an animal being infected, the infection appeared to come from an ill human being. There is no evidence that H1N1 has been transmitted from animals to people. H1N1 has been diagnosed in humans, pigs, birds, ferrets, and a cat. Please monitor your pet’s health continually, no matter what type of pet, and contact your veterinarian if your pet is showing any signs of illness.

What is the best way to find current, accurate information on the 2009 H1N1 virus?
For information on H1N1 and animals, we recommend the H1N1 informational site produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association. It is loaded with FAQs on animals and influenza, is constantly being updated, and will provide you with the most current information.

If you’d like to know more about the H1N1 virus in people and how you can protect yourself, we recommend the site produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Remember, simple precautions such as consistent handwashing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth are some of the best ways to keep yourself free from many diseases.

We want you and your pets to stay healthy this flu season, so please:

  • Follow the basic precautions
  • Learn more and keep yourself well-informed
  • Use medical services promptly if you or your pet(s) appear to be ill

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