Yesterday’s email inbox ding-dinged repeatedly with email alerts from a variety of sources, all urging me to look into the recent American Veterinary Medical Association advisory on H1N1. The Internet is abuzz with the news: One Iowa cat was confirmed to have been infected with H1N1.

Here’s the content of the AVMA’s message:

November 4, 2009 – A 13-year old cat in Iowa developed signs of a respiratory infection after several people in the household were ill. Preliminary testing was positive for 2009 H1N1 on October 29, and the results were confirmed on November 2. This is the first report of a cat infected with H1N1. The cat has recovered from its illness.

To date, this is the first cat confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus. Two ferrets, one in Oregon and one in Nebraska, have also recently been confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus. The Nebraska ferret died, but the Oregon ferret has recovered. To date, there is no evidence that the ferrets or the cat passed the virus to people.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners are reminding pet owners that many viruses can pass between people and animals, so this was not an altogether unexpected event. We are advising pet owners to monitor their pets’ health very closely, no matter what type of animal, and visit a veterinarian if there are any signs of illness.

For more information, view the AVMA’s press release on the Iowa case or visit the AVMA’s H1N1 resources Web page.

Needless to say, this is not welcome news. Though we’d always allowed for the possibility of transmission to and from our household pets, the reality of a confirmed feline case promises to make this flu season even more difficult than it’s already shaping up to be:

  • more clients will call with fear-based H1N1 questions
  • panicked pet owners might kick Fluffy out of the house for the season
  • some might even seize this opportunity to relinquish their pets to shelters...or worse.

I’m not looking forward to it. Because when I consider how much time it takes my GP to address H1N1 concerns (I was there three hours this week and consequently managed to get a good taste of what their daily H1N1 workload is like), I’ll be worrying for my personal sanity along with my patients’ health. More so when I read statements like this one from a Purdue vet school prof (as reported by ABC):

"This could be a thing that just fizzles out but it also has the potential for huge impact," said Tony Johnson, a clinical assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. "We have these little fuzzy things living in our house that could be vectors for nasty diseases."

All fear-mongering aside, this case does not represent a fundamental change in how we should deal with this virus. I’m still with the CDC on all their major points:

  • wash your hands with soap...frequently if you’re out and about or if anyone in your household is sick
  • cough into your elbow, not your hands (please!)
  • stay home if you’re sick
  • get vaccinated!!

To which I’ll add: if you’re sick, wash your hands before handling or feeding your pets. Don’t cough in their direction. Treat them as you would anyone else who might be exposed to your illness. Refrain from kisses, for example, until 24 hours after your fever subsides. And if your pet does get sick, take her to a veterinarian for testing.

It’s just basic stuff, really. Nonetheless, I’ll allow that knowing our pets can become infected––which means they will likely be able to infect us, regardless of the soothing spin the AVMA wants to put on it––is a big deal. But it hasn’t yet proved it’ll change the game so much as it will the players...more of them. And that’s where I worry.