Regional spikes in parvo cases don't signal a national trend, virologist says

Regional spikes in parvo cases don't signal a national trend, virologist says

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Oct 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — Parvovirus cases have spiked in some parts of the country, with veterinarians in New York and Arizona reporting increases of 75 percent and 330 percent, respectively.

Dr. Andrew Newmark, chief veterinarian at Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester, N.Y., says his shelter is seeing about 25 more cases than this time last year.

"This is probably the most I remember, and I've been here 12 years," he says.

In Arizona, Dr. Lorakate Snyder, an associate veterinarian at Chocise Animal Hospital in Bisbee says cases have gone from about three a week to 10 a week over the last month or so.

But parvovirus expert and internationally known virologist Dr. Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine says a nationwide increase in cases is not happening.

"That's more perception than reality," Schultz says. "They're very much in pockets."

But some veterinarians believe a combination of factors—including the economic recession, weather conditions and vaccine frequency—is causing parvo cases to rise in parts of the country.

"I've heard some banter on our Association of Shelter Veterinarians list serve reporting they think they are seeing more cases this year," says Dr. Cynda Crawford, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. However, parvo is not a reportable disease, and there is no national tracking of cases, she says.

Newmark says several practices in his area of New York have reported seeing a spike in cases, too. While always a risk in shelters, he says the increase of 25 or so more cases over last year is unusual.

"It's just shocking how many more cases there are this year than we usually see. We're an open-admissions shelter, so we can get anybody," he says. "But 25 cases, for us, in this span, is certainly eye-opening."

Weather could have something to do with it, along with the economy, Newmark suggests.

"When the economy is bad, people don't take dogs and puppies to get vaccinated as (frequently) as they should," he says.

Curiously, while he normally sees Rottweiler and pit bull puppies with parvo, this spike does not discriminate by breed or age.

"This is the first year we're seeing more adult dogs with parvo," he says. "And we're seeing it in all kinds of breeds we don't usually see."

In Arizona, the virus is targeting younger dogs, but is more virulent than in the past, Snyder says.

"I'm losing a lot more than I'm saving, which is very unusual," she says. "We've been hearing that someone in the area may be giving people the recommendation to start vaccinating at 6 months of age."

So client education could factor into the pockets where parvo is spiking, too. But overall, Crawford says she believes veterinarians are doing a good job of talking to clients about the importance of vaccination. She does, however, agree that the economy may be playing a role in the increased cases.

"I think, overall, veterinarians do a good job of educating pet owners about the importance of vaccinating against parvo. So I don't know if it's a lack of education. I suspect not," Crawford says. "But it also could be, as the veterinarian in New York states, a reflection of the economic recession and the fact that owners are not choosing to spend their disposable income on following through with (their) veterinarian's recommendations on vaccinations."

Even in the veterinary community, though, there is debate about parvo vaccination protocols, Crawford says.