I Can Has Swine Flu? A Cat Comes Down with H1N1 By Alice Park
Nov. 04, 2009
For all the attention that has whirled around H1N1 in recent months, it seems that one vulnerable, and furry, population may have been overlooked: the family pet. On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet, a 13-year-old domestic shorthaired cat. The animal likely contracted the virus from its owners, veterinarians say, since two of the three family members living in the cat's household had recently suffered from influenza-like illness. Late last week, when the cat came down with flu-like symptoms — malaise, loss of appetite — its owners brought it to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment. The family mentioned to the vet that they had also recently battled illness, which led to testing the pet for H1N1. (See a photoessay on rescued stray dogs giving back.)
H1N1 is a combination of influenza strains; one part originated in pigs, and another in birds. So far, only swine and ferrets, which are particularly susceptible to the flu, have become infected with H1N1.(See a photoessay about animal space travelers.)
It's not yet clear how vulnerable cats, dogs and other household animals may be to the new virus, but the Iowa cat's case reinforces just how different H1N1 is from seasonal flu viruses. Although some household cats and certain wild cats in zoos have gotten ill with avian influenza, and dogs have their own canine version of the flu virus, pets don't normally get sick with the regular human flu. "There has never been a report of human seasonal influenza affecting cats or dogs," says Dr. Julie Levy, director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Florida. See the top five swine flu don'ts.
It's possible that the Iowa cat's case may be a bellwether of future pet disease, but it's also possible it was just a fluke event. At the cat's advanced age, its immune system may not have been as adept at fending off influenza as that of a younger animal — similar to the vulnerability seen in aging humans. Still, says Dr. Ann Garvey, state public-health vet at the Iowa Department of Public Health, "We just don't know, we really don't." (Watch a video about a pet store in Gaza.)
Garvey notes that despite nearly 25,000 cases of positive, lab-confirmed H1N1 in people reported in the U.S. since last spring, the Iowa cat is the first pet to be documented with the virus. But before pet owners start suspecting Fido and Fluffy of being H1N1 hotbeds, Garvey stresses that so far, no cases of influenza of any kind in pets — including cases of bird flu — are known to have moved from animals into people. And even among the animals, the virus does not appear to spread easily, which may further suggest that pets are not ideal reservoirs for influenza. (See pictures of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico.)
That's good news for pet lovers and flu worriers. And so is the fact that the cat seems to be recovering well from its bout with H1N1. "Both the owners and the cat are recovering," says Garvey. As for anyone else who is worried about spreading H1N1 flu to their pets, vets recommend following the same guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest for protecting family members — wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and try to avoid close contact with your furry friends until you're well.
Oscar the death cat predicts many deaths A cat called Oscar is an omen of impending doom who has predicted the deaths of dozens of patients at a nursing home, according to a doctor who works there.
Oscar first rose to international fame in 2007, when Dr. David Dosa wrote about his uncanny ability to turn up just before the death of patients at Steere House, in the US state of Rhode Island, in the New England Journal of Medicine. At the time, Oscar had managed to foretell the demise of around 25 patients. But Dosa has now revealed in a new book that in the two years since, Oscar has doubled his tally, making about 50 correct predictions of death.
Dosa insists that he never intended to make Oscar sound creepy or his arrival at a bedside to be viewed negatively, and he hopes his book - Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat - will put the doomcat in a more favourable light.
Dosa, a geriatrician and professor at Brown University who treats patients with severe dementia at Steere House, says many caregivers consider Oscar a comforting presence, and some have praised him in newspaper death notices and eulogies.
Oscar death cat Oscar stalks the halls of Steere House
The nursing home adopted Oscar, a medium-haired cat with a gray-and-brown back and white belly, in 2005. After a year, the staff noticed that Oscar would spend his days pacing from room to room. He sniffed and looked at the patients but rarely spent much time with anyone - except when they had just hours to live. They say he's accurate enough that the staff - including Dosa - know it's time to call family members when Oscar stretches beside their patients, who are generally too ill to notice his presence. If kept outside the room of a dying patient, he'll scratch at doors and walls, trying to get in.
Nurses once placed Oscar in the bed of a patient they thought gravely ill. Oscar wouldn't stay put, and the staff thought his streak was broken. Turns out, the medical professionals were wrong, and the patient rallied for two days. But in the final hours, Oscar held his bedside vigil without prompting.
Dosa does not explain Oscar scientifically in his book, although he theorizes the cat imitates the nurses who raised him or smells odors given off by dying cells, perhaps like some dogs who scientists say can detect cancer using their sense of scent.
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