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Most diseases in the world are very specific types of problems.

By that, I mean that most viruses are very picky about who or what they infect.

Bacteria is less picky, but still has boundaries. Particular bacteria may cause pigeon fever in a horse or a ear infection in a dog, but it never is seen doing the same thing in a human.

Even parasites are very specific. The chicken or bird feather mite can irritate and “bug” a bird. When the mites get on humans, they may cause some very disturbing movement on your scalp, but they won’t live there and a simple washing of your hair gets rid of them.

Internal parasites are often very, very specific and will only affect certain species.

There are some notable exceptions, of course.

The rabies virus is pretty universal. It doesn’t infect birds, probably because their body temperature is around 108 degrees, but rabies affects all other animals, including humans.

With its fatal consequences, we spend a lot of time worrying about and protecting our pets and ourselves from rabies.

The new H1N1 influenza virus appears to be one of those exceptions that thinks the whole world is its domain.

We have seen, firsthand, how easily it infects and spreads in the human population. We usually worry about people getting diseases from animals, but, with H1N1, maybe we should be more worried about us giving it to our animals.

On Oct. 19, the USDA’s National Veterinary services laboratories confirmed the presence of the virus in a pig sample collected at the Minnesota State Fair. This was the U.S.’s first H1N1 case confirmed in the swine population.

Since then, many cases have been confirmed as has been the case in many other countries. Our first pig got it from sick people at the fair.

By the way, you can’t get H1N1 from eating pork.

Nov. 4 saw the first confirmed case of H1N1 virus in a pet cat. The 13-year-old cat became ill with influenza-like symptoms after family human members had been ill. All recovered from the illness.

Pet ferrets also suffer from the H1N1 flu.

In Nebraska, a family’s four ferrets became sick after family members fell ill with the virus. One of the ferrets died, but the others recovered.

A ferret in Oregon showed symptoms of weakness, sneezing, coughing and an elevated temperature and was confirmed to have H1N1.

In all these cases, the animals were infected by their sick owners. This ferret survived and recovered easily.

Birds are also listed as species that have had the virus, but, so far, I have seen nothing that lists dogs as having the disease. There may be many cases that are not diagnosed and are mild enough that medical help is not needed.

With most diseases, the severity of the spread of the disease doesn’t last more than a year or two because many people and animals have mild or recognizable infections and develop immunity to the disease.

With less-susceptible individuals, the virus just can’t find victims to infect.

If your family does get the flu, try to keep the exposure to your pets at a minimum and watch carefully for symptoms in your pets. If they become ill, you may need to see your veterinarian for supportive care.

Have questions about pets? Write to: PetVet; c/o The Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, MT 59107-6300. Questions of general interest may become topics of future columns.

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