Is The H1N1 Virus Mutating?
Ferret Gets Swine Flu From Owner - A First
It appears that certain pets can catch swine flu from their
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
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,
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
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 2009.
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, he said.
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 near it.
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
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 of observations.
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."
full list of h1n1 vaccine ingredients, alerts and warnings.
Reference Source 190
October 22, 2009