Ferrets are susceptible to human influenza virus, and it has been demonstrated that the disease can be transmitted from humans to ferrets, and from ferrets to humans. Both type A and B influenza virus can infect ferrets. As with all viral infections, there is no cure, so careful prevention is the best control. This includes preventing exposure of ferrets to humans who are actually infected, and separating infected ferrets from susceptible ferrets in a household while they are ill.
Diagnosis of influenza is made on the basis of symptoms and exposure history. While a definitive diagnosis can be made by viral isolation from nasal secretions, or from rising antibody levels in the blood, these tests are not generally practical in a clinical setting. Symptoms include thick discharge from the eyes and nose, sneezing, and conjunctivitis (swelling and redness of the membranes around the eyes). Affected ferrets become lethargic and depressed. Fever above 104 degrees is seen commonly with influenza. The infection generally runs a course of 1-2 weeks. Although most ferrets will recover from influenza, it can be a fatal disease, and the very young and the very old are at greatest risk. When deaths occur, they may be associated with bacterial complications, such as Streptococcal pneumonia.
As it is in humans, treatment of influenza in ferrets is based on supportive and symptomatic care while the disease runs its course. Pediatric nasal decongestants can be used to reduce fluid secretions and open swollen nasal passages. Nutritional and hydration support must be maintained even if it means force feeding or administering fluids intravenously. In high risk individuals, the use of antibiotics can be valuable in preventing secondary bacterial infections which can be serious.
If you have any questions or comments about the information above, feel free to send a message to Dr. Suzanne Lee, D.V.M. at SLeeDVM@aol.com.Return to the Ferret Clinic
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