TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It looks like the H1N1 virus is not just for humans anymore. Thursday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet: a 13-year-old short-haired cat. The news has shocked the science world, because never before has a human seasonal influenza affected cats or dogs.
"Is it really the person that gave it to it or was it maybe another animal?" I asked Dr. Sharon Phillips, with Tyler Veterinary Center.
"I'm just not sure how it's transmitted," reapplied the doctor.
Phillips provided answers and a bit of advice for her clients.
"Don't panic," said Phillips. "I don't want the clients to become overly concerned about this because we are still learning a lot. It was one case in a cat, and the only symptoms this cat displayed was just lethargy and not feeling well. It wasn't having the fever or the runny nose."
Doctors say the H1N1 case of the Iowa cat remains an isolated incident. They added that disease crossover is extremely rare. The rule for keeping your pets healthy are the same as your family.
"Just take the proper hygiene that you would with other people in the household: no sneezing on the cat [and] cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze," said Phillips.
Doctors say cats are more susceptible to respiratory illnesses and stress which does make them likely candidates to pass the disease to humans.
"I would probably be more concerned about me giving it to my pets than the pets giving it to me," said Phillips. "So far, they've not proven that dogs and cats can be a vector of this, which means they have not proven that it can transmit to humans, and so until that gets worked out with some research, I would tell owners don't panic."
Doctors are continuing to investigate just what happened to make the cat susceptible to the disease. Early reports suggest the age of the cat - 13 years old - with a weakened immune system may have been a contributing factor.