Flu, flu everywhere

I’m not sure if it’s the media, the hype over the impending swine flu H1N1 pandemic, or the fact that things really are bad this year, but we simply can’t escape talk of the flu, can we?

In my town, a healthy little 5 year old girl came down with H1N1 last week, and died. Where I’m not normally the kind of person to hover over my kids and go running to the doctor at every little sniff, this week I’m on edge. And hovering. Sniffle? Might be a cold. Might be swine flu. Stomach pains sending my daughter home from school? Might be gas. Might be swine flu. The unimpressed nurse at my pediatrician’s office said we can’t be seen until tomorrow, so I’ll spend the night with a thermometer stuck in my daughter’s ear every 10 minutes making sure she isn’t developing a spiky fever.

If that wasn’t enough, word on the street is that a ferret in Portland was recently diagnosed with H1N1. I don’t know a great deal about ferrets as a reservoir species (they are illegal in my state) but that is just one more thing we don’t need to have to be worrying about, is it? They do think the ferret caught it from the human, and not vice versa, though I’m sure that won’t stop them from being falsely accused at some point of being ground zero for some new Andromeda Strain if it sells a few more newspapers. The most excellent Dr. Janet at About.com has more information on that latest news for those interested.

And while we are basking in the fact that dogs and cats cannot get nor transmit H1N1 that we know of, out comes H3N8 to burst our bubble. The new strain of canine influenza (documented in 2004) is documented in 30 states now. That flu is though to have originated from equine influenza. Good gravy. Makes going to the zoo a lot less appealing, doesn’t it? I spent years studying this stuff and I still find it confounding and nerve-wracking at times. Conspiracy theories abound, though truthfully viruses are sneaky enough on their own that I can’t fathom any people being clever enough to direct their evolution and mutation.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel and go into specifics about the H3N8 virus; instead, for those who are interested I’ll point you in the direction of those much more knowledgeable than I on the topic:

10 Things to Know about H3N8 (from the New York Times)

H3N8 Update (from the American Veterinary Medical Association. The bottom of this article has even more links.)

Overall point: Dogs have been getting upper respiratory infections for eons and eons, so the syndrome is nothing new. It’s simply a new causative agent. (kind of like, er, H1N1.)

I have the unusual dichotomy of being in a mildly panicked mode about my own kid, bundling her off to the pediatrician tomorrow just to be sure, while at the same time being the same reassuring medical care provider to worried pet parents. The take-home message is the same in both cases, which I’m repeating for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s as I’m sure to be hearing tomorrow:

Even if it is influenza, the vast majority of cases result in only minor illness.

Knowing who is going to be in the unlucky 1-5% is a power I do not possess.

When in doubt, go to the doc. That is what they are there for, to hand you tissues while you sniff and imagine the worst and remind you that your (fur)kid appears to be doing just fine. Pass the disinfectant, please.

Filed: Daily Life
  • Equine flu!?! So THAT’S what happened to my horse this summer…


  • Thank you for the reassuring post. With three kids, four including me, at home sick I can not help but worry.

    • Your whole family is sick? Poor guys! Take care of yourselves!!

  • Chile

    I was doing fine with the swine flu until I watched th 60 Minutes special on it on Sunday night. Then I decided two things: we’re all going to die from it and I’m never leaving my house again. But it’s scary, I’ll admit that. It’s actually got me thinking about getting the shot when it’s available.

    And now I have to worry about Cookie getting sick? Eep. She only goes to a kennel once a year but arugh. Off to read about it!

    • There are definitely pockets of high incidence, but I don’t *think* your area is one of them.

      • Chile

        So Cookie should be safe at the kennel for a few days. Can I just mail her out to hang out with her cool Aunt Jess in SD over Turkey Day? ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Thanks for the linkage, Dr V! I love your commentary on the flu situation. I have never had a flu shot and have never really paid that much attention to human flu news because *knock on wood* I don’t often get sick. This year is different.

    My son came down with mild fever, respiratory signs and abdominal pain last week. Called the pediatrician asap. Normally I wouldn’t call so quick, but… this year I did. (He is fine – thank goodness.)

    The scary thing is the “young people” predilection this virus has – probably due to less lifetime exposure to influenza viruses. Being proactive – not alarmist – is good. I think that each new species this virus mixes it up with will be the thing to watch for. :-/

    • My daughter has constipation. That is the first time in my life I have been grateful for that, because there are 5 kids in her class with the flu.

      Not a big flu shot person myself either, but I did it. My pediatrician’s office doesn’t have any supply for the kids, though- even the regular flu vaccine, which makes me nervous.

      I admit I’m a bit nervous about the same mutatable virus floating around in people, swine, turkeys, and ferrets. I know it’s happened before but it seems we are a victim of our own globalization now, you know? We’re the ones spreading it from one farm in Mexico to every corner of the globe.

  • I had H1N1, it knocked me flat on my butt for almost 4 weeks. I don’t wish it on anyone, it’s a horrible flu, much worse than any flu I’ve had before. I’m not entirely sure where I contracted it from, but it’s spreading around Vancouver Island like wildfire right now. I was caught int he first wave, now my cousin and her friends have the second wave. It makes you feel awful, so very awful.

    • Oh ugh! I am so glad you’re OK. Everyone I’ve talked to said the same- it is nasty, nasty.

  • Sara

    As a vet I’m not totally sold on the canine influenza vac. I almost feel like ft dodge is just using the media hype (and creating some of its own) about ‘flu’ in general to sell some more product. Call me cynical….

    But we do have 25 doses in the hospital just in case…

    Hope your little one feels better soon!

    • We don’t have it at all. I’m interested to see how it plays out.

      • There is a web conference on dog flu (H3N8) hosted by AAHA tomorrow:
        Web Conference: Canine Influenza Update
        Thursday, October 22, 2009
        Speaker is Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, who discovered/researched this virus, including “Transmission of equine influenza virus to dogs” in Science 2005.

        • Do you have to be an AAHA member to view it? I might have to see if anyone on VIN will do a summary…

  • You can also use the Intervet/Schering-Plough login (upper right). It is $27 for non-AAHA members. Maybe they will provide conference notes? That would be nice.

    I am attending. I will try to type some notes! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Oh, that’s not bad. I was thinking it would be much more. Tax writeoff for the blog? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • You betcha!

        Hey, since you brought up ‘blog’ how do I get a cool avatar like you? Do youu use Gravatar here?

        • Gravatar, yes. My blog designer got my avatar setup but I don’t know how to use it on other sites. I’m not the most tech savvy.

  • wikith

    I think it’s possible I had H1N1 earlier this year. My fiancee and I both got ragingly sick (hours after he proposed, haha!) less than a week before the swine flu really hit the media outlets, and it lingered for weeks. Between the travel he’ done through a couple international airports shortly before and the fact that Ithaca got hit by H1N1 early on and has continued to be hit hard, I still look back and wonder a bit.
    I am still on the fence abut the shot for myself, and feel that the vet clinics in the area who have been having “flu shot clinics” for dogs are capitalizing on the current flu fear.