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December 4, 2007 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Will I give my new bunny the flu?

Sorry if this is basic science, but I just can't find anything through google...
Tomorrow I am bringing home a sweet little baby bunny to join the family! Yay! However, I have also been meaning for some time to get a flu shot, and I think I should do that this week as well. (I am young, but have a weak immune system, so its important that I get one.) I know that the inactive/dead vaccine is generally available and I will get that if possible, but my concern remains that I will get my new bunny sick.
Is this possible? Can influenza be transmitted from human to rabbit -- even if it is a "dead" vaccine?
posted by honeyx to Pets & Animals (7 answers total)
I'm sure others with a more technical skillset will reply, but suffice it to say that the chances of this happening are likely so rare as to be considered impossible. Interspecies disease transmission is comparatively rare, with a few notable exceptions (like H5N1 bird flu).
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:09 PM on December 4, 2007

Short answer: no. First of all, the virus in a flu shot is killed, so you can't get influenza from the shot, let alone your rabbit. Secondly, even if you did carry the flu virus, the viral tropism range of human influenza does not include rabbits as a host.

In order for a virus to infect a host cell, it must be able to attach to the host cell. Influenza's hemagluttinin binds to epithelial cells in the respiratory tract; a given strain of influenza can only infect the host cells if the viral ligand (HA) can bind to terminal sialic acid residues on the host cell glycoproteins/glycolipids. If the correct attachment structure isn't present on the host cell surface, that virus cannot infect that cell. Since your rabbit's epithelial cells do not have the "right" host sialic acid (N-acetylneuraminic acid with an alpha 2-6 linkage)...bunny is safe from infection by human influenza virus. (Side note: pigs have this SA on their epithelial cells, so they *can* be infected by human influenza virus).

"Rabbit flu," also called "snuffles," is not actually caused by "flu" (the influenza virus)--it's caused by a bacterial infection by Pasteurella multocida type A. My microbiology notes say: "The infection is often chronic and the rabbits will have an exudate from the nostrils for a long period of time" (which they'll wipe on their forearms, getting them crusty). Humans are not especially susceptible to type A infection, so if your rabbit ever has "rabbit flu," you're unlikely to be infected from it. (We *are* susceptible to P. multocida type D, which is practically ubiquitous in dogs' and cats' mouths; it can cause serious bite would infections.)

In summary: feel free to get your flu shot, & enjoy your new bunny.
posted by neda at 11:08 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot. Therefore it is impossible for you to transmit the flu that you (won't) get from the flu shot to anyone (human or bunny). Congrats on getting a new baby bunny :)
posted by GlowWyrm at 11:11 PM on December 4, 2007

When I was sick as a dog with some sort of flu, our rabbits treated to me to such tender ministrations as hopping on my face and trying to steal my oatmeal. All three remained healthy and hale as they took fiendish bunny delight in tormenting me while I was too weak to defend myself. Even Beef Wellington, who is a doctor you know, tossed aside his Hippocratic Oath to join in the "binky on the sick guy" fun.

Eventually, we made a deal. I'd feed them mini-carrots if they'd just curl up next to me and get petted. I'm not sure how they out negotiated me, it must have been a doozy of a flu.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:04 AM on December 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

neda pretty much nailed it. Just want to give you a reference for reassurance (JEM is a very good journal):

Humans, mice and ferrets are susceptible to human influenza. Rabbits are apparently insusceptible to infection with the virus of influenza.
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:43 AM on December 5, 2007

Thanks so much for the help everyone! Askme rules!
posted by honeyx at 12:55 PM on December 5, 2007

Now let's see those bunny pictures, please!
P.S. you also can't give your bunny the cold that you may or may not get this winter either. I looked that one up for myself last year.
posted by rmless at 2:29 PM on December 5, 2007

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