Millions of pet lovers warned: You could pass flu on to Fido!
A total of 13 cats and one dog in the U.S are believed to have caught the H1N1 virus in 2011 and 2012 from their owners
Researchers say there needs to be greater awareness of the phenomenon
15:01 GMT, 4 October 2012
Pet owners have been warned next time they have the flu, they may not just pass it on to friends and family – they might also infect their animals.
Thankfully, the chances are relatively slim, but U.S researchers said greater awareness was needed of the phenomenon, known as 'reverse zoonosis.'
They added that people who experienced an influenza-like virus, should distance themselves from their animals.
Around 80 to 100million households have a cat or dog in the U.S, with 20million domestic felines and pooches in the UK.
Is your pet poorly The first recorded, probable case of fatal human-to-cat transmission of H1N1 flu occurred in Oregon in 2009
It’s well known that new strains of
influenza can evolve from animal populations such as pigs and birds and
ultimately move into human populations, including the most recent
influenza pandemic strain, H1N1.
It’s less appreciated, experts say,
that humans appear to have passed the H1N1 flu to cats and other
animals, some of which have died of respiratory illness.
Professor Chistiane Loehr, from Oregon State University, who is looking into the phenomenon, said: 'We worry a lot about zoonoses, the
transmission of diseases from animals to people.
most people don’t realize that humans can also pass diseases to animals,
and this raises questions and concerns about mutations, new viral forms
and evolving diseases that may potentially be zoonotic.
'And, of course,
there is concern about the health of the animals.'
So far there are only a handful of known cases
of people spreading flu to their animals but this could be due to poor awareness of the phenomenon.
Researchers at Oregon State University and Iowa State University are now working to find more cases of this type of disease transmission to better understand the risks to people and their pets.
They said people with influenza-like illnesses should distance themselves from their pets.
If a pet experiences respiratory disease or other illness following household exposure to someone with flu, they should take them to the vet for tests.
The first recorded, probable case of fatal human-to-cat transmission of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus occurred in Oregon in 2009, Loehr said. Details were published in Veterinary Pathology, a professional journal.
In that instance, a pet owner became severely ill with the flu and had to be hospitalized. While she was still in the hospital, her cat – an indoor cat with no exposure to other sick people, homes or wildlife – also died of pneumonia caused by an H1N1 infection.
Since then, researchers have identified a total of 13 cats and one dog with pandemic H1N1 infection in 2011 and 2012 that appeared to have come from humans. Pet ferrets have also been shown to be infected, and some died.
All of the animals’ symptoms were similar to that of humans – they rapidly develop severe respiratory disease, stop eating and some die. Serological studies suggest there is far more exposure to flu virus in cats and dogs than previously known.
'It’s reasonable to assume there are many more cases of this than we know about, and we want to learn more,' Prof Loehr said.
'Any time you have infection of a virus into a new species, it’s a concern, a black box of uncertainty. We don’t know for sure what the implications might be, but we do think this deserves more attention.'
Natural and experimental transmission of the H3N2 influenza virus from dogs to cats in South Korea showed the potential for flu viruses to be transmitted among various animal species, Prof Loehr said. It’s unknown if an infected cat or other pet could pass influenza back to humans.
The primary concern in 'reverse zoonosis,' is that in any new movement of a virus from one species to another, the virus might mutate into a more virulent, harmful or easily transmissible form.