October 4, 2012
Can Dogs Get Flu From You? – Study Says It’s Possible
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Can your dog get the flu from you? Scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) say the next time you´re sick, you might want to distance yourself from your beloved pets. Their recent research explored the possibility of human-to-pet flu transmissions and found evidence that the infection of pets from humans — especially during the peak of flu season — is a cause for concern.
While there´s not much information on human-to-pet transmission, also known as “reverse zoonosis,” the scientists and veterinarians at OSU believe that it is necessary to increase awareness and understanding of the possibility of such transmissions.
The team believes that there is a possibility that humans passed on the H1N1 swine flu to some animals, a few of which died due to respiratory complications. The researchers want to identify more cases of human-to-animal transmission of viruses so that they can better understand the risks posed to both humans and pets. The study of human-to-pet transmission could potentially affect the approximately 80 to 100 million households in the U.S. that own pets.
“We worry a lot about zoonoses, the transmission of diseases from animals to people,” commented Christiane Loehr, an associate professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, in a prepared statement.
“But 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.”
The team of investigators focused on flu transmission from humans to cats and dogs. They concluded that humans who have the flu should stay away from animals. For those pets that do become sick due to a respiratory illness, the scientists recommend that pet owners take their animals to the veterinarian to be checked out.
The human-to-pet flu transmission was first observed in 2009 and the details were included in The Veterinary Journal.
Following 2009, one dog, 13 cats and several ferrets were identified as being infected by the pandemic H1N1 swine flu due to exposure to humans who had the illness. The animals displayed symptoms similar to humans who had developed the respiratory disease; they stopped eating, and then died following exposure. As such, it is believed that the human-to-pet flu transmission is more serious than originally thought.
“It´s reasonable to assume there are many more cases of this than we know about, and we want to learn more,” explained Loehr in the statement. “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.”
Based on other experiments conducted in South Korea, scientists have also discovered that the flu virus can spread from cats and dogs to other animals. Researchers are concerned about “reverse zoonosis,” where flu viruses in traditional hosts like birds and pigs can then be mutated into a stronger, more deadly form of the virus.
In order to acquire more evidence, the researchers have encouraged veterinarians to contact them if they see any cases of human-to-pet flu transmission. The team of investigators is currently working to develop methods of identifying, limiting and preventing more human-to-pet disease transmission.
“All viruses can mutate, but the influenza virus raises special concern because it can change whole segments of its viral sequence fairly easily,” concluded Loehr in the statement. “In terms of hosts and mutations, who´s to say that the cat couldn´t be the new pig? We´d just like to know more about this.”