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.