Health experts in China have assured pet-lovers they need not panic following the discovery of two dogs infected with the deadly H1N1 flu at the weekend.
The animals were diagnosed in Beijing and, while it is possible for pets to transfer viruses to their owners, scientists said there is no evidence to suggest pets are already spreading the illness.
"If animals can get infected from humans, then the reverse is also true," said Feng Zijian, director of emergency response for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
"But there is no need to panic in this case."
He explained that so far, across the world, the virus has only been passed from humans to pets.
However, if the virus spreads among dogs, it could potentially be passed on when the animal sneezes or through its waste.
"Only when the virus mutates within dogs will it be a new threat to humans," Feng said.
The virus found in dogs in Beijing was a 99-percent match for the flu currently infecting humans, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, which announced the canine infection on Saturday but did not elaborate on the breed.
"The role of dogs in the virus' mutation is still unknown. However, pigs provide a better environment for virus mutation," Feng said.
"Pigs are regarded as the gene mixer."
The canines, which were probably infected by their owners, are contagious to other dogs, an expert at the Beijing Agricultural Bureau told Beijing Times on Saturday.
On Nov 19, four pork samples tested positive for H1N1 at a slaughterhouse in Shuangcheng, Heilongjiang province. The animals were also infected by humans, according to reports.
Meanwhile, as China rushes to vaccinate people against the flu, the H1N1 virus is picking up speed.
Eight infected children are in critical condition at a hospital in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Two of them, aged 9 and 11, have been diagnosed as brain dead.
"I believe the H1N1 virus led to white matter lesions in the children," said Li Chengrong, president of Shenzhen Children's Hospital, who added that the illness attacks the nervous system and can cause dementia, coma and even death.
He said parents should pay close attention to a child's mental state if they become ill.
Symptoms include delays in responding, incoherence in speech, restlessness and insomnia.
"Once a child starts to convulse or goes into a coma, it's too late," Li said.