Oregon Cat Positive for H1N1 Virus Has Died
On November 4, 2009, a 10-year-old male cat was brought to Animal Clinic in Lebanon, Oregon with labored breathing. A member of the family had been sick with influenza-like illness approximately one week earlier.
On initial examination, the cat’s temperature was 101.7 F. There was no coughing or sneezing and its respiration was rapid and shallow. Radiographs were taken and revealed results consistent with pneumonia.
On November 5, 2009, the cat’s respiratory rate worsened. The cat was admitted and treated with oxygen and medication.
On November 7, 2009, the cat died. It was later confirmed that the cat was positive for pandemic H1N1 by Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
It is believed that this is the first feline H1N1 fatality. It is the third confirmed case of a cat with H1N1. In addition to this case, there have been cases of confirmed H1N1 infection in cats in Iowa and Utah. Both cats recovered.
A Nebraska ferret with the virus died last month. Four Oregon ferrets tested positive and have recovered.
Three other cats in the Oregon household also became ill with different degrees of sneezing and coughing. None of them had an elevated temperature. Nasal swab samples were collected and yielded no other positive results for H1N1.
In these cases it is believed that the cats caught the virus from humans in their households who were sick with influenza-like symptoms. If you or other members of your household are ill with influenza-like symptoms, wash your hands, use alcohol-based hand cleaners, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze, and avoiding touching your cat’s eyes, nose and mouth.
Dr. Emilio DeBess, Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian, cautions owners and veterinarians that it may be possible for cats to transmit this virus to humans. Coughing and sneezing can spread the virus which can remain infectious for about a week outside the body. Thoroughly wash your hands when handling sick pets or when you are sick.
Despite the unfortunate outcome in the Oregon case, cat owners should not panic. The number of confirmed cases of H1N1 infection in cats is quite small compared to the US cat population.
Watch your cat for symptoms and seek veterinary care if your cat shows signs of respiratory illness.
Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, lethargy, or conjunctivitis (swelling and redness of the membranes around the eyes).
In these instances, your cat should be examined by your veterinarian, especially if there is a recent history of influenza-like illness in the household.
As with people, treatment is supportive, which means treating the symptoms and letting the virus run its course. If a diagnosis of respiratory illness is made, your veterinarian can suggest medications and treatment to make your cat more comfortable.
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