H1N1 influenza created an unbelievable stir during that fateful month. Virtually all business in Mexico ground to a halt as fear of the virus crippled the country. H1N1 was declared a pandemic flu virus on June 11th. News outlets went berserk reporting on what I’m sure they secretly hoped would become a pandemic (and news story) to match the one in 1918.
Despite the media frenzy, the pandemic didn’t turn out to be especially fatal. Coverage of H1N1 was supplanted when news outlets got their once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true news story — a story much more enthralling to ordinary people than the deaths of millions ever could be, and I’m sure you remember where you were when you heard the news — when Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. Pandemic influenza, and most of human history preceding M.J.’s death, were promptly forgotten by the media.
However, H1N1 influenza continued to spread among people. And, unfortunately, some people with the virus began to give it to their cats. Several cats were infected, often with fatal results, in 2009 and early 2010. Then the infections stopped. All was quiet on the H1N1 feline front for over a year.
Yesterday the American Veterinary Medical Association sent a special notice to my inbox. Feline H1N1 is back. Here’s a quote from the message.
H1N1 influenza confirmed in Wisconsin cat
February 14, 2011 — IDEXX Laboratories announced today that infection with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus was confirmed in a 6-year-old cat in Wisconsin. The cat’s owner had recently been ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the cat’s illness. The cat developed severe respiratory illness; despite aggressive treatment, the cat deteriorated and was euthanized. A second cat in the household also developed severe respiratory disease and was euthanized due to failure to respond to treatment; although samples from that cat were negative for the virus, 2009 H1N1 influenza remains the presumptive cause of illness and death in the second cat.
Until now, the last confirmed 2009 H1N1influenza infection in a pet was reported in January 2010. These new cases serve as a reminder that the virus is still circulating in the population and is still capable of infecting people and pets.
Here are AVMA’s recommendations:
The most important messages for clients at this time are not to panic and to have any ill pets examined by a veterinarian, especially if someone in the household has recently been ill with flu-like symptoms. To date, all of the infected pets were infected by ill people, and there is no evidence that ill pets have transmitted the virus to people or other animals. Emphasize the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation to prevent spread of the virus. Based on the currently available information, ferret and cat owners should be especially cautious.
Don’t panic, indeed. I am saddened by the death of the two cats, but it is clear that H1N1 poses a relatively low risk to our feline companions. In the last year I’m certain that many more cats have died from bee stings and lightning strikes. Cars and other cats pose much greater threats than H1N1.
However, the potential transmission of influenza from humans to cats is worth remembering as flu season drags on in the northern hemisphere.