Reverse Zoonosis: Researchers Investigate Human-To-Animal Transmission Of Flu

When you have the flu, you can pass along your sickness to your children, your spouse, your siblings … and apparently, also Fido.

Oregon State University researchers are investigating these rare cases of "reverse zoonosis" -- where humans pass on illnesses to animals -- to find out just how common they are, and whether the virus transforms during transmission.

Researchers said this is especially important to investigate because influenza viruses could potentially mutate into a more easily transferrable, or more dangerous, form when they go from humans to animals.

"All viruses can mutate, but the influenza virus raises special concern because it can change whole segments of its viral sequence fairly easily," Christiane Loehr, an associate professor of the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. "In terms of hosts and mutations, who's to say that the cat couldn't be the new pig? We'd just like to know more about this."

In 2009, researchers identified a fatal case where the H1N1 flu was transferred from a human to a cat. The case, details of which were described in the journal Veterinary Pathology, included a woman who was hospitalized with H1N1 flu, and whose cat was found to have died from H1N1-caused pneumonia.

Researchers found 13 cats and one dog with similar human-to-animal flu transmissions in 2011 and 2012, as well as a number of ferrets that seem to have contracted flu from humans.

Because the mechanisms of this transmission are still not completely known, the researchers said that it's best if a person has the flu to stay away from pets. And if a pet seems to also come down with some flu-like illness, to take them to a veterinarian, they said.

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