What’s new with dog flu?
Did you know that there is now an annual Dog Flu Prevention Week? In response to the thousands of dog flu cases reported last year and recent outbreaks, Merck launched the Inaugural Dog Flu Prevention Week on April 16.
With flu in focus, I’ve gathered some updates and tips from Jason W. Stull, VMD, MPVM, PhD, DACVPM, an assistant professor at The Ohio State University and owner of Island Dog Consulting.
Some quick flu facts:
Here are some factoids from dogflu.com (Merck's new resource) to get started:
Unlike human flu, canine flu is not seasonal. It’s a year-round problem, and the most commonly affected dogs are middle-aged, not puppies or seniors.
Dogs infected with canine influenza are potentially infectious for up to three weeks after onset. Dr. Stull recommends advising clients with confirmed dog flu to keep their dogs home and isolated from other dogs for four weeks.
The H3N2 strain produces only mild disease, but it’s extremely infectious and easily vectored on human hands and clothing. Once flu has been introduced into a veterinary hospital or other group setting, it spreads like wildfire.
There is no evidence that canine flu infects humans.
Current hot spots
Santa Clara, California, and Reno, Nevada, are currently experiencing canine flu outbreaks. Not to be left out, Canada has now joined the club with its first canine flu cases confirmed, including an outbreak in central Ontario with 25 confirmed cases—most likely linked to a shipment of rescue dogs from Asia. To stay current on outbreaks, Dr. Stull recommends bookmarking Cornell’s page or visiting the Worms and Germs blog, both of which have up-to-date disease surveillance maps.
GASP! You’re in a hot spot! Here’s what to do …
Keep calm, says Dr. Stull, and follow these tips:
Understand the vaccine. Even though the bivalent canine influenza vaccine reduces the risk of a dog contracting canine influenza, it doesn’t provide sterile immunity. Much like the human influenza vaccine, it reduces the clinical signs if a dog is infected and consequently reduces the number of cases and helps control spread of the disease.
Proactively reach out to at-risk patients. Send out an email informing your clients of the risk and highlight the need to vaccinate at-risk patients, such as those that travel, go to doggie daycare, participate in dog shows and so forth.
Check your infectious disease prevention protocols. If you have gaps in your infectious disease prevention protocols, influenza will reveal them. Influenza travels quickly and overwhelms a facility. Dr. Stull can tell stories of clinics where one flu suspect infected the whole hospital, where veterinary staff infected their own dogs, and where doggie daycare and grooming facilities had to be shut down for decontamination.
According to the AVMA, canine influenza virus may persist in the environment for approximately two days and be viable on hands for 12 hours and on clothing for up to 24 hours. It appears to be easily killed by disinfectants, so follow proper handwashing and biosecurity protocols. Patients suspected of having the flu should not be allowed to enter or exit through the main entrance or permitted in the waiting room. Dr. Stull advises keeping these patients in the car, and, if possible, conducting the exam in the vehicle; the employee should wear personal protective equipment (gloves and a gown at minimum).
Why wait? Vaccinate!
Part of the challenge of preventing canine influenza outbreaks is helping people realize the risks and encouraging a proactive approach. It’s hard to talk a client into yet another vaccine during a wellness visit when they’ve already agreed to a battery of core vaccines. The good news is that there’s a bivalent vaccine available (remember when we had to give separate vaccines for H3N2 and H3N8?), so it’s at least one less poke.
People have a basic human need for autonomy and like to be involved in choosing what happens to their pets. With this in mind, try my tips for educating clients:
Canine influenza is a lifestyle vaccine: not every dog needs it, and one size does not fit all. Give the client the opportunity to take the AAHA risk assessment test while they’re sitting in the waiting room or exam room to determine which vaccines their pet needs.
Ask clients to read a dog flu fact sheet (see examples here and here) while they’re waiting for the doctor and then ask if they have questions and if they’d like their dog to receive the flu vaccine during their visit.
Human medicine does a huge marketing push for influenza vaccines every year at the beginning of flu season. While canine flu is year-round, you may be able to piggyback on the awareness surrounding human flu and gain greater compliance through the parallels drawn to human health. Consider hosting an influenza vaccine fair with low- or no-cost exams on a Saturday either at your clinic or at a local health fair. People are more likely to say yes if you focus on a single vaccine.
Use dogflu.com to educate your clients and your staff. There’s a free downloadable infectious disease handbook, an interactive outbreak map that spans several years, and tips for everyone (including groomers, dog walkers, concerned pet parents and veterinary professionals).
Manage disease risk in group settings
Places where dogs come together, such as dog shows, dog parks, and training and boarding facilities, are at highest risk for disease spread and need the most disease prevention attention, says Dr. Stull. Funded by a grant from the American Kennel Club, a team from The Ohio State University put together a website detailing everything you need to know about infection control in group settings, including a white paper for clients, an open access article from JAVMA, an infectious disease risk calculator and fact sheets you can use to protect your business and your patients.