Canine flu confirmed in 22states

Canine flu confirmed in 22states

Aug 01, 2006

NATIONAL REPORT — "This is the new parvo," an expert says of the canine influenza outbreak now confirmed in 22 states.

Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, an expert in canine influenza from the University of Florida, reports that this airborne virus is more widespread than once thought. Preliminary data show a 16 percent infection rate and a 7-percent mortality rate, which Crawford believes is likely low based on the small sample.

The effects of canine influenza have authorities comparing the virus' potential to a more prolific parvovirus.

"Influenza is actually more contagious than parvovirus," Crawford explains, "because it can be transmitted through the air, and dogs were just as naive of this virus as they were to parvo when it came to the U.S. in 1978."

Dogs in 50 states have been tested for the virus, with more than 4,000 veterinarians submitting blood samples for analysis. With so many states reporting positive results, this influenza is not simply confined to shelters or racetracks, but veterinary practices as well.

"This isn't a dirty shelter disease," says Dr. Miranda Spindel, director of Veterinary Services at the Larimer Humane Society (LHS) in Colorado. "Canine influenza is in veterinary clinics, boarding facilities. Anywhere dogs go, so does this virus."

Spindel, who is starting a residency in shelter medicine at Colorado State University, says any open-intake facility receiving and dismissing dogs can have a dog incubating and shedding virulent disease. She ramped up on canine influenza when LHS was hit with an outbreak.

Canines are the newest mammalian host for this virus, Crawford says. "There is no indication that canines will be the last species to be hit with emerging strains."

Fighting an outbreak

Officials are battling canine influenza brush fires throughout the United States.

Here is the latest from some areas impacted by canine influenza:

  • All Florida greyhound racetracks have issued quarantines on their dogs. All racers remain at their home track.

"There is no regulatory body that can make race tracks shut down by mandate in Florida," Crawford says. "But it is a good thing that quarantines took place to minimize the spread."

  • When 15 greyhounds died due to the illness, the Naples-Fort Meyers Greyhound Track issued a quarantine.
  • Two dogs reportedly died at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.
  • The Bonita Springs, Florida dog track cut back to eight to 11 races daily and canceled all Saturday races after a consulting veterinarian gave the recommendation in order to give the dogs adequate rest between races.
  • In May, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter in Cheyenne, Wyo., depopulated its shelter after 72 dogs were infected or exposed to the virus.

Forty-two dogs were euthanized over the course of one day, says Alan Cohen, director of the facility. Nineteen that hadn't been directly exposed to the adoptable population were separated and treated, while 11 were in foster care.

"It was a daunting task, but it was the approach to the problem that was chosen by the veterinarian who was here at the time," he adds. "That was without a doubt the worst hour and a half of my life."

The decision was made after an attempt to treat the infected dogs failed. Cohen says he believes stress played a large role in the dogs failed recovery, and the ability to recover diminishes in line with the concentration of infected dogs in an area.

  • In October 2005, the Delaware Humane Association (DHA) in Wilmington, was forced to close its doors to adopters for eights weeks after a single dog tracked canine influenza into its kennel.

"Unknowingly we brought a West Highland Terrier into the facility on a Wednesday; by Saturday, the entire kennel was coughing and was infected with the virus," says Angie Wells, DHA's medical manager.

Blood samples were sent to Cornell for confirmation. At that point, the shelter sent letters to all area veterinarians and to Pennsylvania, where the infected dog originated.