Thursday, November 5, 2009

Iowa Cat Diagnosed With Swine Flu (H1N1)

It seems we have a little excitement in the news this morning - here is the text of an alert I received from the Los Angeles County Public Health Veterinarian:

On November 4, 2009, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a press release reporting that a 13 year old indoor cat was confirmed to have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus (see attached press release). The cat became ill after two household members had developed influenza-like illness. Both the family members and cat have recovered from their illness. There was no evidence that the cat spread the infection to any people or other animals.

People who are sick with H1N1 influenza may spread the infection not only to people, but to some animals too. Recently, there were reports that swine, ferrets and turkeys have also contracted the virus from infected people. Thus, it is important for individuals with influenza-like illness to take precautions which will minimize spread of the virus to both humans and animals.

People can keep their pets healthy by washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, and minimizing their contact with their pets when they are ill. If a pet becomes ill, they should consult their veterinarian. Veterinarians should report any suspected cases of influenza in animals to our program.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 877-747-2243 or 562-401-7088. Completed case reports may be faxed to 562-401-7112. Thank you for your assistance with local animal disease surveillance.

Karen Ehnert, DVM, MPVM
Senior Veterinarian
County of Los Angeles
Department of Public Health
Veterinary Public Health & Rabies Control
(phone and email deleted)


Here's the Iowa press release:

Protecting Pets from Illness
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) remind Iowans that in addition to protecting their families, friends and neighbors from the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, it’s important to remember to protect family pets from the illness, as well. People who are sick with H1N1 can spread the virus not only to humans, but to some animals.
The Departments are sharing this message following the confirmation of a case of H1N1 in an Iowa cat.
The 13-year-old indoor cat in Iowa was brought to the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where it tested positive for the H1N1 virus. The diagnosis is the culmination of collaborative efforts between IDPH, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Advanced Host Defenses, Immunobiotics and Translational Comparative Medicine, USDA, and IDALS Animal Industry Bureau.
“Two of the three members of the family that owns the pet had suffered from influenza-like illness before the cat became ill,” said IDPH Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Ann Garvey. “This is not completely unexpected, as other strains of influenza have been found in cats in the past.” Both the cat and its owners have recovered from their illnesses.
People can keep their pets healthy by washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and minimizing contact with their pets while ill with influenza-like symptoms. If your pet exhibits signs of a respiratory illness, contact your veterinarian.
“Indoor pets that live in close proximity to someone who has been sick are at risk and it is wise to monitor their health to ensure they aren’t showing signs of illness,” said Dr. David Schmitt, State Veterinarian for Iowa.
For more information about H1N1, visit or call the Iowa Influenza Hotline at 1-800-447-1985.


Los Angeles County Health Department has put out a FAQ sheet about pets and H1N1:

What is the latest information about the H1N1 influenza virus in animals? On November 4, 2009 the Iowa Department of Public Health reported that a 13-year old pet cat had contracted the virus from its owners, who were also ill. Everyone in the household recovered completely. This was the first report of H1N1 influenza causing illness in a cat. There is no evidence that cats are carriers of the H1N1 influenza virus.

What other types of animals can catch the H1N1 influenza virus? The H1N1 influenza virus has been reported in pigs in 10 countries, turkeys in Canada and Chile, and ferrets in Oregon and Nebraska. In most cases, the infection appeared to cause mild signs. There is a separate strain of influenza that dogs can catch from other dogs called Canine Influenza H3N8. People cannot catch the Canine H3N8 Influenza virus.

What symptoms would I see in my cat if it developed H1N1 influenza infection?
Since only one cat has shown signs of illness, this question cannot be answered with certainty. Symptoms are expected to be mild and include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, and reduced appetite. Please note that there are many more common infections that can cause these same symptoms in cats and other pets.

Can I catch H1N1 influenza from my pet? At the moment there are no reports of any person contracting the H1N1 virus from a pet. Nonetheless, pet owners may take simple precautions to prevent transmission of the virus, especially if your pet is ill. Read below for details.

Can animals catch this virus from each other? Currently, there are no reports of this virus spreading from pet to pet. However, pet owners should read more below for simple steps can reduce the spread of any germs between pets.

How can I protect my pets and myself against H1N1? Good hygiene and sanitation help protect the whole family.
• Cover your cough with a sturdy tissue or sneeze into your elbow
• Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, before or after touching your face, or before eating
• Wash your hands before and after handling your pet or your pet's food bowl, water bowl, bedding, or other supplies
• Keep sick pets in a separate area, away from healthy pets
• Do not allow your pet to sit or sleep close to your face, especially if you or your pet are ill
• Contact your veterinarian or veterinary clinic if your pet becomes ill.
o Call your veterinary clinic before bringing your pet in to them
• Keep your pet's bedding, food and water bowls clean
• Keep your pet up-to-date on vaccinations and other preventative care recommended by your veterinarian

Can my pet be vaccinated against H1N1? No. There is no vaccine created for pets against this virus. Human vaccines cannot safely be used on pets.


I was half expecting something like this to happen eventually. So far it's a yawner, but given the propensity of flu viruses to mutate and become more virulent, we can't afford to ignore this.

The main take-home message is THIS: Keep your kitties safe the same way you keep other people safe from your flu infection by handwashing, covering your coughs and sneezes, and social distancing. If you are home sick with the flu, don't let kitty sleep in bed with you.

A number of human cold viruses are already known to cross into cats, where they invariably dead-end with the primary cat, and don't generally cause more than mild disease.

I haven't been able to get the H1N1 vaccine yet, not being in any "high-risk" group, but I sure would like to. The last thing I want is to get sick with it and have to stay home and NOT be able to cuddle with the boys.

If anything new develops with this disease, I'll keep you advised.

Here's a link to the AVMA's page on H1N1 reports in domestic animals.