AVMA rebuts reports of rise in distemper cases due to new viral strains

AVMA rebuts reports of rise in distemper cases due to new viral strains

Association says warmer temperatures and lack of vaccination to blame
Apr 01, 2012

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is rebutting claims made by multiple media outlets that an increase in distemper cases at shelters are due to new virus strains.

There is no evidence to back these claims, AVMA says. But the association calls on pet owners to stay up-to-date with vaccinations against distemper and other diseases.

AVMA reports that it collected data from veterinary virology experts Dr. Ed Dubovi from the Cornell Animal Health Diagnostic Center and Dr. Ron Schultz from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine to make this assessment. The uptick in distemper cases at shelters are likely due to a combination of warmer temperatures that favor the virus and a lack of adequate vaccination in lower-income areas. Animal shelters in Florida, California and Texas seem to have the greatest number of distemper outbreaks, AVMA notes.

Over the last decade, Schultz notes that many of the larger city shelters have approximately 40 percent to 50 percent of dogs entering the facility antibody negative for canine distemper virus. That means these dogs have never been exposed to the virus and therefore remain susceptible to infection. In addition, AVMA reports that diagnostics have improved, so veterinarians may actually be seeing the same number of cases, but they are better able to confirm the diagnosis.

Viral news and social media compound local news reports, leading to panic-stricken pet owners, AVMA says, but most veterinarians report that they have not seen cases of canine distemper virus in vaccinated patients.

Some new strains of the disease have been detected in genetic studies, AVMA notes, but it's impossible to say whether the strains are new or just newly detected because of better testing. Either way, there is no evidence to suggest current distemper vaccines can't handle the strains that are circulating, AVMA says.