By Elisa-Black Taylor
This is a page about the cat’s involvement in pandemics. I’d like to caution the readers that this article is going to be one of my longest in awhile. It’s long because it’s important information we may all need one day to protect ourselves and our cats.
Definition of “Pandemic”: An epidemic over a large area that affects a large proportion of the population (Michael added this because he wasn’t sure what a pandemic was ;))
I also work in security, and once worked the emergency room at a local trauma center. The study of pandemics is right up there with excessive hand washing when you work in a hospital setting. Even now I’m expected to study terrorism, as it’s part of being in the security field.
I got the idea for this article after reading Michael’s recent article on the Boston Marathon bombings. I made a comment and later realized how many of you don’t realize how cats, even if not sickened in a pandemic, may be killed out of fear.
I want all of you to know I’m not just making this up out of thin air. The Center For Disease Control website backs up everything I’m saying and was the primary source for this article. Here are a few of the pandemics that have affected history and could easily happen again. If you’re like me, you worry what would happen to your family and whether you’d survive. You should also worry about your cats. Let me explain, using past epidemics and lots of research from the CDC website.
Between 1347-1429 A.D., Europe (especially the London area) was hit by this plague on several occasions. The first round killed 24-40% of the population. It’s transmitted by flea bites or secondarily by respiration. The Bubonic form has a 50-70% mortality rate. Other forms are 100% fatal and there is no immunity. It took Europe until the 19th century to repopulate from the millions who died.
The bacteria responsible, yersinia pestis, is spread through flea bites and rats. Other animals, including cats, can become infected by being bitten by the flea or ingesting the rat. Cats can die from the plague, or fleas that bit the cat can bite a human and pass the bacteria on to humans. Meaning cats would likely become the enemy of anyone trying to contain the spread of this disease.
In London, cats were initially blamed for the disease and widely slaughtered. This made things worse because the cats killed the rats. Rats were the spreaders of the disease.
The 1918 global pandemic of Spanish Influenza is the pandemic most people remember. It first hit in the U.S. in March 1918. Over 500 million people became sick, and 50 million died worldwide. According to the CDC
“the 1918 influenza pandemic had another unique feature, the simultaneous (or near simultaneous) infection of humans and swine.”
The H1N1 virus comes up a lot in the article I researched. So does the Avian flu, which is what the Spanish flu was believed to evolve from. Or into. After 90 years, the 1918 flu is still being studied.
Government studies have shown the flu epidemic shouldn’t have killed as many as it did. It kept mutating, and people should have developed an immunity if they survived round one. But many died in the second or third round of this global killer that actually hit in three parts between 1918-1919.
The Avian flu is a particular concern to the scientists of today. The CDC says “In addition to humans and birds, we know that pigs, tigers, leopards, ferrets and domestic cats can be infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses. While domestic cats are not usually susceptible to influenza type A infection, it is known that they can become infected and die (both experimentally and naturally) with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses and, in a laboratory/research setting can spread the virus to other cats. It is not known whether domestic cats can spread the virus to other domestic cats under natural conditions.”
The cat becomes infected when eating a bird carrying the H5N1 virus.
BLOODY FLUX (DYSENTERY)
Caused by either bacteria or amoebas, dysentery is spread through the contamination of food and water by fecal matter. The parasite responsible is called Entamoeba histolytica. Cats can get dysentery, and anyone who accidentally handles the feces of an infected cat may become ill. This can be passed person to person. The big danger with Bloody Flux is the danger of dying from dehydration in a short period of time. The very young and very old are particularly at risk.
This is the illness that almost killed Anne Boyeln, wife of King Henry VIII.
In this century, dysentery is more likely to spread after a natural disaster or global catastrophe where people are living in unsanitary conditions. Still, the danger is there and reports show cats can spread it.
A lot of the problems cats may face, should we have another global pandemic, will likely be caused by the government in an effort to stop whatever deadly illness hits.
I recently read two Kindle books that proved rather upsetting from a cat lovers standpoint. They were works of fiction, but could be our future reality between all of the unidentifiable “bugs” out there and bio-chemical terrorism. One bad virus released by a terrorist could easily turn these books into reality.
The first novel was called Sector C by Phoenix Sullivan. It told of a plague that was a cross between Avian flu and mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). The plague was believed to have started in either milk or meat. In an effort to stop the spread of the disease, which had a nearly 100% fatality rate, all of the livestock were ordered killed. Then a few domestic animals died of the new illness. That’s when the government ordered all domestic pets be killed. Imagine the number of people dumping their pets at shelters out of fear, even before the order to kill was issued. Or having to watch while the military went house to house killing the family pets.
The Flu (A Novel of the Outbreak) by Jacqueline Druga was the other. In it, the carrier of a deadly strain of flu was a cat. Not the initial carrier, but near the end of the novel when a town thought they had the virus under control. Then a cat slipped into the area where a town festival was being held and contaminated everyone.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I realize this is a worst case scenario and I do like reading fiction, but this could happen. Especially when you consider a person can be in the U.S. in the morning and travel to Europe by nightfall. A pandemic would take less than 24 hours to go global. It’s scary. And of course, the cat would likely meet a tragic end once the government becomes involves.