By Joe O’Halloran
Cover your mouth and wash your hands. Simple enough, right? Think again. Since the swine flu emerged, people across the country have been taking precautions to protect their families against the novel H1N1 influenza virus infection. But what about the family pet?
One of man’s best friends in Westchester County became the first in the nation to catch a confirmed case of the same stain of swine flu that is infecting humans last week. Now the Suffolk County SPCA is suggesting that Long Island dog owners take caution.
The 13-year old dog was diagnosed by veterinarians on Dec. 21 and contracted the virus from the canine’s owner. The mixed breed male dog was “lethargic, coughing, not eating, and had a fever” once he was brought in for an exam, experts said. A Bedford Hills vet treated the pup with intravenous fluids and antibiotics before he was discharged after 48 hours. The dog, who was not named, is recovering.
John Pennypacker, a product manager with Idexx Laboratories, the maker of the H1N1 test used by veterinarians, said that pets are just like humans when it comes to the prevention of this disease.
“People should take the same precautionary measures around their pets, as they do around other sick people in order to prevent the spread of this H1N1 viral infection to animals,” he said.
Pennypacker said this there have been other reports of animal infection worldwide and several reports of dogs infected in China, but none have yet to be confirmed.
Roy Gross, chief of Suffolk County SPCA said there is little concern of animals spreading the virus, but that doesn’t mean dog owners shouldn’t be careful.
“Currently, the virus can only be transmitted from humans to animals,” Gross said. “In theory, the virus could be transmitted from one animal to another, or from animals back to humans, but studies show little, if any, evidence of this.”
Dr. Michel Selmer, of the Suffolk SPCA, added that the New York swine flu dog is an isolated incident and people should not become overly concerned.
“There are very few cases of the H1N1 virus in pets,” Selmer said. “However, if someone in a household with a pet becomes ill with the virus they are advised to watch their pet for symptoms and know that there is a chance for the animal to get sick.”
Dr. Selmer said that pets that contract the swine flu will generally not act like themselves, will have a decrease in appetite and will appear to have a respiratory illness that should require a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Pets are exposed to H1N1 through aerosols, or fluids that are released when someone sneezes, coughs, or touches their face and then a surface.
“It’s like having a cat on your lap,” Pennypacker said, “You cough, sneeze, and pet the cat without thinking much of it, and then all of a sudden the cat has H1N1.”
Pennypacker said he believes there will be more and more testing on animals for the H1N1 virus and more cases of the viral infection in dogs, but does not foresee it becoming a pandemic.
Among pets, cats and ferrets have previously been found to catch the swine flu strains from humans, and at least one cat and one ferret have reportedly died.
Officials said there is no current vaccine available for H1N1 influenza in pets, only seasonal influenza. A division of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer Animal Health, has been in charge of testing potential vaccines, but was unable to be reached for comment.
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is recommending that people with ailing pets wash their hands often. If swine flu is suspected in either owner or pet, he said, “isolate yourselves from each other, which we realize is only possible to some degree,” said AVMA spokesman Michael San Filippo.
Ann Hohenhaus, spokeswoman for the Animal Medical Center in New York, said if a pet or an owner is sick, “Don’t play kissyface with your dog or your cat or your ferret. You wouldn’t with your kids if you were sick, so don’t do it with your pet.”
With Associated Press