Health officials may have found a way to persuade flu vaccine resisters to actually get the shot.

Tell them their pets’ health is at risk.

We all know new strains of the flu can evolve from animal populations – swine flu, anyone? – but apparently humans can pass their germs to their pets.

Researchers at Oregon State University say people may be able to pass the flu to animals, including pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets. The concept of human-to-animal flu transmission is called “reverse zoonosis.”


(The OSU news release included a cute dog photo, but my dog is cuter. This is Nema helping chop fire wood.)

There are only a handful of known cases of the phenomenon, but it does happen, according to the OSU veterinary researchers.

The first recorded, probable cause of human-to-cat transmission of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus occurred in Oregon in 2009.

In that case, a pet owner was severely ill with the flu and had to be hospitalized. While she was in the hospital, her cat (an indoor cat with no exposure to other sick people) died of pneumonia caused by an H1N1 infection.

OSU and Iowa State University researchers are looking into the phenomenon, surveying flu transmission to household cat and dog populations.

Since the 2009 case, researchers have identified a total of 13 cats and one dog with pandemic H1N1 infection in 2011 and 2012 that appear to have come from humans. Pet ferrets have also been infected and some have died, according to OSU researchers.

“It’s reasonable to assume there are many more cases of this than we know about, and we want to learn more,” said Christiane Loehr, an associate professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “Any time you have infection of a virus into a new species, it’s a concern, a black box of uncertainty. We don’t know for sure what the implications might be, but we do think this deserves more attention.”

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