Swine Flu Hits Some Pets
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
If you own a pet, you may be worried by news that a house cat in Iowa has come down with swine flu. The unlucky feline is resting comfortably and is expected to make a full recovery. Two ferrets also got the virus; one in Nebraska died. So, how much of a concern is swine flu for pets?
Dr. Richard Slemons is a professor of veterinary medicine and an expert on animals and the flu. I asked him if he was surprised that a cat got the flu.
D: No, I am not surprised. It's an unusual event, but we know in years past that cats have been infected with Type A Influenza viruses. Most notably with the Asian lineage of high-path H5N1 viruses in Asia. Cats that consume large carcasses of dead birds that died from the high-path H5N1 virus did contact it and some large cats did die from that. So it's not surprising to find influenza in cats.
SIEGEL: Are the ferrets any more surprising?
D: No, the ferrets are very understandable because ferrets historically have been the laboratory animal model that's highly sensitive to Type A Influenza viruses. And they've been used in Type A Influenza research since the '30s.
SIEGEL: What about dogs, by the way? Would you be surprised if dogs got the swine flu?
D: Dogs, probably a little bit. Dogs seem to be more resistant than maybe the other animals. But I might point out that in cats and dogs, the Type A Influenza viruses are not maintained in those species. It looks like it's usually a spillover, as far as we know, from humans into those species.
SIEGEL: Ah-ha. Is there any evidence that pets can then pass the illness onto humans or no?
D: We have not seen that. There's no evidence, and we have not seen it and not demonstrated it. It might happen on a rare event, but I don't think it's a common problem.
SIEGEL: From what I've read, the family that owns the cat in Iowa who has the swine flu, the people had at least symptoms of swine flu.
D: That's been very characteristic of the new 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus, is it has spilled from humans into pigs, like it did in 1918 with the Spanish flu, as well as into turkeys and now, as you pointed out, the ferrets and the cats.
SIEGEL: If someone listening suspects that the cat might have swine flu, first of all, is it much more dangerous to cats or dogs that they should rush to the vet right away? How would they know that it's swine flu as opposed to the cat just having a very bad day?
D: Well, I think they would see that it has a respiratory infection. And there are respiratory infections common in cats and pigs that you would probably be difficult to differentiate it from. If the animal looks like they are in some distress, or just not a normal sniffly or runny nose, then you might want to take it to your veterinarian.
SIEGEL: And would the vet give you medicine for the flu for the cat?
D: Well, they would probably treat it just like humans, symptomatically. They would tell you to rest, get plenty of fluids and stay warm, avoid contact with other cats or other dogs or humans. Try to keep them a little bit isolated.
It doesn't appear to be at any great risk to humans, but you should take precautions after you handle your cat. Wash your hands and clean up the bowls and clean up the area.
SIEGEL: Tell the cat to sneeze into his paw.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: Dr. Slemons, thank you very much for talking with us.
D: It was a pleasure talking to you today.
SIEGEL: That's Dr. Richard Slemons, professor in the department of veterinary preventive medicine at the Ohio State University.
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