People who get sick with flu may not realize they can pass the virus not only to other humans, but possibly to pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets. This concept, called “reverse zoonosis”, is still poorly understood but has raised concern among some scientists and veterinarians.

Veterinary researchers at Oregon State University and Iowa State University are working to fi nd more cases of this type of disease transmission and better understand any risks they pose to people and pets.

“We worry a lot about zoonoses, the transmission of diseases from animals to people,” says Christiane Loehr, an associate professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “But most people don’t realize that humans can also pass diseases to animals, and this raises questions and concerns about mutations, new viral forms and evolving diseases that may potentially be zoonotic.”

The researchers are surveying fl u transmission to household cat and dog populations, and suggest that people with infl uenza-like illness distance themselves from their pets. If a pet experiences respiratory disease or other illness following household exposure to someone with the infl uenza-like illness, the scientists encourage them to take the animal to a veterinarian for testing and treatment. or