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2009 H1N1 Flu Virus and Cats

Questions and Answers About the H1N1 "Swine Flu" Virus and Cats

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Timeline: Documented H1N1 Cases in Cats

Ever since the WHO (World Health Organization) classified the H1N1 virus as a pandemic in June of 2009, fear compounded by misinformation have ensued. Even the name, "swine flu," is a misnomer, as the H1N1 virus, although similar, is not the same virus responsible for the swine flu in North America.

At first, it was thought that the H1N1 virus could not be transmitted to cats by humans. However, since the discovery of a documented case of a cat in Iowa contracting swine flu from human family members, and a second cat confirmed with the virus, this time in Park City, UT, renewed speculation has ensued. Although the knowledge of H1N1 is evolving every day, this article will answer questions as they arise and will be updated as needed.

What Exactly is This Flu?

The 2009 H1N1 has gone through several different names, and now, it appears to be composed of "pieces" of several different virus sources, according to the CDC as reported by the AVMA. The CDC has adopted the official name of "2009 H1N1 flu."

Question: How is the H1N1 Virus Transmitted?

Answer: The H1N1 virus can be caught by inhaling airborne particles (sneezing, coughing) or through direct transfer of mucous matter (hand-shaking, kissing.) It's symptoms are similar to most other flu viruses:
  • Coughing
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or Congested Nose
  • Fever and Chills
  • Head and Body Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes Vomiting and Diarrhea

Is my Cat Likely to Get H1N1 From Me?

Answer: To date there have been three documented cases of a cat catching swine flu from a family member. The AVMA advice is to keep sick family members away from all pets, and to otherwise use good sanitation precautions. Should you get H1N1, the best precautions against spreading it to humans or cats are:
  • Swine flu victims should stay in bed during the early days of the flu, and keep the cats out of the bedroom. You should not have direct contact with your cats until 24 hours after your temperature has returned to normal.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then fold the tissue and discard it in a trash container.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after coughing or sneezing, and before preparing food for your family, including your cats.
  • Watch for symptoms of H1N1 in your cats and take them to the veterinarian at the first sign of symptoms.

Question: What Are the Symptoms of H1N1 Virus in Cats?

Answer: The symptoms of H1N1 virus in cats are similar to those of other conditions, including other respiratory infections. That is why it is important that a vet evaluate the cat and treat for the specific diagnosis. Symptoms of H1N1 in cats include:
  • Sneezing and/or Coughing
  • Runny Nose and/or Eyes
  • Inappetance
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Respiratory Problems

Question: What Should I Do if my Cat Gets the Swine Flu?

Answer: Of course, the first thing you'll do is to follow your veterinarians instructions for treatment. I'd also suggest that you follow the same routine you'd take if he had any other contagious respiratory disease. Keep him isolated from other pets, and use common-sense hygiene when tending him. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after medicating him, feed him separately from other cats, and wash his food and water bowls in very hot water. Most of all, keep his atmosphere as stress-free as possible. Stress inhibits healing in both pets and humans, and you'll want your kitty well again as soon as possible.

Question: Cat I Get H1N1 From my Cat?

Answer: There have been no documented cases of a cat passing H1N1 to a human, and it is presently considered unlikely. Michael San Fiippo, spokesperson for the AVM told Yahoo News, "But it's so early in the game we don't know how it's going to behave. But that doesn't appear to be the concern. There's no sense of them passing it on to people." The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says, "No evidence is available to suggest that animals are infecting humans with 2009 H1N1 virus."

You are much more likely to catch the H1N1 virus through human contact: public crowds, work environments, and even other patients in hospital clinics. Pregnant women, babies and toddlers, and people with certain chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, are particularly susceptible to the virus, and are among the first to be offered vaccines.

It is clearly not the time to panic. There is absolutely no need to get rid of any cats, as they're MUCH more likely to get H1N1 from you, and not vice-versa.

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