By David Stauth
Flu season is here and people who get sick may not realize they can pass the flu not only to other humans, but possibly to animals, including pets such as cats, dogs, ferrets, and more.
This concept, called “reverse zoonosis,” has raised concern among scientists and veterinarians, who want to raise awareness and prevent further flu transmission to pets. About 80-100 million households in the United States have a cat or dog.
Experts say, that humans appear to have passed the H1N1 flu to cats, dogs, and other animals, some of which have died of respiratory illness. According to Christiane Loehr, an associate professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, the first recorded case of fatal human-to-cat transmission of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus occurred in Oregon in 2009.
Since then, researchers have identified only a small number of cats and dogs with pandemic H1N1 infection that appeared to have come from humans. However, these are only the cases in which the pet was taken to the veterinarian and tested. It is feared that many more cases have gone detected because owners did not take their pet to a veterinarian with symptoms or after it died.
CDC spokesman, Tom Skinner, suggests that people cover coughs and sneezes, frequently wash your hands, and try to distance yourself from your pet until you have been without fever for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medicine.
If a pet experiences respiratory symptoms or other illness following household exposure to someone with the influenza-like illness, owners are encouraged to take the pet to a veterinarian for testing and treatment. Symptoms for animals are similar to that of humans, but may to hard to detect. Look for lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, eye or nasal discharge, sneezing, and/or labored breathing.
It may also be possible for the influenza virus to be transmitted from pet to pet among various animal species, says Loehr. It is unknown if an infected cat or other pet could pass influenza back to humans. Veterinary researchers are working to find more cases of this type of disease transmission and better understand any risks they pose to people and pets.
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