The new strain of canine flu affecting dogs and cats in the Midwest will likely spread across the U-S and pose a threat to pets throughout the summer months into the fall. That’s the warning from two of the experts who helped to identify the virus.
“None of the dogs in this country are protected from this particular virus, so yes, it could very well spread everywhere in the country,” says University of Wisconsin Veterinary Care Veterinarian Sandi Sawchuk. “With the mobility of people and their pets, I can foresee that this could potentially be a problem anywhere.”
At least 1,000 dogs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have come down with canine flu and recent tests confirmed it was a new strain never before seen in the U-S. The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory identified the strain as H3N2, which had only been seen until now in Asia.
“We hope to find out if this came from someone who transmitted it on an airplane, if it came from an animal that moved or if it came from either goods or food,” says Keith Poulsen, WVDL Diagnostic and Case Outreach Coordinator. “It’s really difficult to say.”
Poulsen says it could take up to a year for development of a vaccine specific to the H3N2 strain. In the meantime, vets are recommending that dogs get the vaccine for the older H3N8 strain of canine flu even though it’s not yet known how effective it is against the new strain.
“We’re hoping that it’s cross protective and a do no harm but we can’t guarantee that it will prevent clinical disease,” Poulsen says. Both strains of the virus cause persistent cough, runny nose and fever in dogs and cats. Some can develop more severe symptoms and H3N2 has been associated with some deaths.
Experts discovered H3N2 could be spread to cats after a dog from Wisconsin, who’d been in the Chicago-area, returned home and infected another family dog and two family cats.
Both viruses are spread through nose-to-nose contact from nasal secretions but neither strain is related to bird ﬂu or is contagious to humans. Veterinarians say pet owners should avoid places where dogs congregate, like dog parks, doggy daycare and boarding facilities.
Other symptoms include discharge from the nose or eyes, sneezing, lethargy, low-grade fever and loss of appetite. Pet owners with sick dogs should contact their veterinarian and Poulsen suggests trying to schedule an appointment outside the clinic to further avoid contact with other dogs.
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