A veterinarian in Portland examined a ferret with a respiratory infection on October 5th and submitted a swab to the Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Emilio DeBess, after learning that it’s owner had been ill with the flu. Oregon State University labs reported on October 8th that the ferret tested positive for H1N1 (commonly known as Swine Flu) and this result was confirmed by the US Department of Agriculture the following day.
The implications of this finding are that domestic animals which are susceptible to influenza A viruses could not only catch Swine Flu from their owners but could also transmit the virus to them. In a statement, an Oregon Veterinary Medical Association spokesman advised ferret owners to be cautious as we enter this year’s flu season. At this time, the association is not recommending that children should be kept away from pet ferrets.
"If your ferret starts to exhibit signs of a respiratory illness or lethargy, the animal should be examined by your veterinarian. Because of the immunosuppressive effects of influenza, bacterial infection may be of concern. If discharge from the nose or eyes becomes discolored (yellow or green), or if your ferret is coughing, contact your veterinarian," continued the association’s spokesman.
All birds and mammals can be infected with a form of influenza virus, of which there are three types (A, B and C). Humans can be infected by forms of all three, but most flu varieties in animals and humans that cause serious health concerns are Influenza Type A. Viruses can mutate rapidly, and because hosts’ immune systems do not initially protect against new mutations, new strains can subsequently cause widespread infection. Often new strains result from the spread of an existing flu virus from one species to another, which provides the virus with the necessary tools to transmit between members of a different species to it’s usual host.