A 13-year-old Iowa cat has been infected with swine flu, veterinary and federal officials said Wednesday, and it is believed to be the first case of the H1N1 virus in a feline.
The domestic shorthaired cat was treated last week at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ames and has recovered, officials said. The virus also has been confirmed in two ferrets — one in Oregon and the other in Nebraska — but they died.
"We've known certainly it's possible this could happen," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Tom Skinner. "This may be the first instance where we have documentation that transmission occurred involving cats or dogs."
The veterinarian who treated the cat, Dr. Brett Sponseller, said two of the three people in the cat's Iowa home had flu-like symptoms before the cat became ill. The case was confirmed at both Iowa State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Other influenza strains have been known to cross species, but Sponseller cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the cat including whether other pets could also get the swine flu.
"It's well documented in influenza in general, but this is the first highly suspected case of H1N1 going from humans into a cat," he said, The Associated Press reports.
Though influenza is known to cross species, we've seen that less with this strain, though it's been confirmed in birds and ferrets. In fact, many veterinarians have been telling clients that transmission from humans to cats and dogs or vice versa is beyond unlikely. This cat changes that.
To protect your pets, experts suggest taking the same precautions you would to prevent spreading the flu to other people, including getting the vaccine, wearing a mask, keeping some distance and washing your hands, USA Today reports.
Dr. Ann Garvey, Iowa's public health veterinarian, said it's unlikely that a person could catch the flu from a pet. She also said officials don't expect to see many cases of pets becoming ill with the new flu. But she said pet owners who suspect they have the disease should wash their hands often and minimize contact with their animals until 24 hours after the illness subsides.
"We're just encouraging people to take the same kind of common-sense measures they're taking to protect their families," she said, according to DesMoinesRegister.com.