- Ferret Gets Swine Flu From Owner, a First (Oregon, USA)
- By Jacques Von Lunen
- The Oregonian
- It appears that certain pets can catch swine flu from
- Oregon just registered its 1st case of a natural human-animal
transmission of the H1N1 virus. Actually, it may be the 1st such recorded
case anywhere, said Emilio DeBess, Oregon state public health veterinarian.
- A ferret, whose owner had shown flu-like symptoms, tested
positive for swine flu on [8 Oct 2009].
- The owners took the ferret to a veterinary clinic in
Portland on 5 Oct 2009 (DeBess said the clinic asked not to be identified.)
The animal had severe respiratory illness and showed many of the symptoms
people associate with the flu: fever, weakness, coughing, and sneezing.
- After hearing that the owner suffered from flu symptoms
just before the ferret got sick, the treating veterinarian called DeBess,
whose responsibilities include serving as a consultant to Oregon vets.
- DeBess asked the vet to send in a sample of the ferret's
nasal secretions. It was tested at an Oregon State University lab, which
found genetic markers for the strain of H1N1 that's infecting humans. A
lab of the U. Department for Agriculture confirmed the finding on 9 Oct
- This came as little surprise to DeBess. Ferrets, which
are sensitive toward respiratory illness, have been used in labs to see
how the flu will affect people, he said. But this may be the 1st case anywhere
of a ferret catching the flu from its owner, without the help of lab technicians,
- The ferret is recovering.
- DeBess put the staff at the clinic on "fever watch"
after the test results came in. No one at the clinic had gotten sick as
of last week [week of 12 Oct 2009], he said.
- Ferret owners need to be careful during flu season. And
that goes both ways. If you have a ferret that's sneezing and coughing,
wash your hands a lot and definitely take it to a vet. If you are sick
with flu-like symptoms, handle your ferret sparingly. Don't cough or sneeze
- The same is true for birds, DeBess said. Birds are basically
the origin of all flu viruses, historically, and they "can get any
and all flu viruses," he said. However, no cases of birds contracting
H1N1 are documented in this country.
- In the past 5 years the flu virus has mutated into a
strain called H3N8, which infects dogs. It's not known to transmit to humans.
No known strain infects cats, and neither cats nor dogs can carry H1N1.
- Communicated by Bruce Kaplan, DVM, Dipl AVES (Hon)
- Many thanks to Bruce Kaplan for sending this information
- This story underscores a well known scientific reality
-- influenza A viruses have many warm blooded hosts, both animal and human,
and move between them from time to time. The situation is summarized by
Fouchier, Osterhaus, and Brown as follows:
- "Influenza virus types A, B, and C all belong to
the family of _Orthomyxoviridae_ and have therefore many biological properties
in common. A key difference between them is their in vivo host-range; whereas
influenza viruses of types B and C are predominantly human pathogens that
have also been isolated from seals and pigs, respectively, influenza A
viruses have been isolated from many species including humans, pigs, horses,
marine mammals, and a wide range of domestic and wild birds."
- So to find this new, novel H1N1 virus occurring for the
1st time in ferrets should not be truly surprising. For example, if the
H5N1 pandemic is any guide, these influenza A viruses will move from time
to time into new species. Hopefully, we will follow it closely and pick
up these important epidemiologic clues. As the H5N1 pandemic evolved, we
found the H5N1 virus in domestic cats, tigers, civets, and very recently
Chinese pikas, a species closely related to rabbits.
- Given that the disease so far has been clinically mild
when it shows up, it underscores the old epidemiologic adage that "If
you don't look, you don't find." The practicing veterinarian in Oregon
really should be congratulated for looking. His exemplary curiosity and
commitment to public health goals of the veterinary profession were evident
when he called Oregon's public health veterinarian, Dr Emilio DeBess. Dr
DeBess also did a great job obtaining a sample and characterizing it as
H1N1 pandemic strain. The article quotes Dr DeBess as saying we haven't
had pandemic H1N1 in birds in the United States, which is true but ironically
just today (20 Oct 2009), ProMED-mail published the 1st pandemic H1N1 in
turkeys in Kitchener, Canada. So it is not far away.
- This new observation is a good piece of disease detective
luck but we shouldn't rely on chance for our knowledge of influenza A viruses
in animals, whether it be dogs, cats, ferrets, or pet birds, or any other
animal that lives in close association with people. Likewise, active surveillance
in food animal species would also help us look and subsequently find more
concerning the distribution of pandemic H1N1. Finally, given that many
times the transmission is from humans to newly susceptible animal species,
the more people infected with H1N1 as the virus spreads this fall (2009),
the more often we will likely see these '1st time in a new species' type
- Again, Fouchier, Osterhaus, and Brown sum up the situation
nicely: "Although it will be virtually impossible to prevent new outbreaks
of influenza in humans and animals, it is now well recognised that global
animal influenza virus surveillance can play a key role in the early recognition
of new threats. Insights into the prevalence of influenza A viruses in
animals in our environment may provide a clue for which viruses to look
out for. In the reference laboratories, the pathogenic and antigenic properties
of the circulating viruses can be determined and panels of reference reagents
required for testing of animals and humans can be updated when needed.
Importantly, the intensified global surveillance of animal influenza may
shed new light on questions related to the temporal and spatial variation
in circulating influenza viruses and the epidemiology, ecology and evolution
of influenza A viruses."
- 1. RAM Fouchier, ADME Osterhaus, IH Brown: Animal influenza
virus surveillance. Vaccine 2003; 21(16): 1754-7; available from http://download.thelancet.com/flatcontentassets/H1N1-flu/surveillance/surveillance-18.pdf.
- 2. J Zhou, W Sun, J Wang, J Guo, W Yin, N Wu, L Li, Y
Yan, M Liao, Y Huang, K Luo, X Jiang, H Chen: Characterization of the H5N1
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Derived from Wild Pikas in China.
J Virol 2009; 83(17): 8957-64; abstract available from http://jvi.asm.org/cgi/content/abstract/83/17/8957.
- The state of Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest region
of the US, can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map
at http://healthmap.org/r/00WS. - Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural
Economics Univ of West Indies Please visit my "Emerging Diseases"
message board at: http://www.emergingdisease.org/phpbb/index.php Also
my new website: http://drpdoyle.tripod.com/ Zhan le Devlesa tai
sastimasa Go with God and in Good Health