From the desk of Dr. Turgai:
We’ve been receiving a number of calls in recent weeks about canine influenza. Thanks to an outbreak in the Chicago area, an avian flu problem in Iowa, and numerous news reports, canine influenza is on a lot of people’s minds. We thought we would take a little time to address the subject and provide some information about this disease and its vaccine.
In the United States, the first cases of identified canine influenza occurred here in Florida in 2004. A flu strain that originally only affected horses jumped species and caused several severe respiratory outbreaks in racing greyhounds. From there, the disease spread throughout the country, though usually only in very small numbers.
Symptoms of canine flu range from a persistent cough that lasts 10 to 30 days, to a rarer but severe form that can result in pneumonia. The flu is transmitted through coughing and sneezing, and coming into contact with infected objects. This means that it spreads especially well in enclosed environments with many animals, like kennels and shelters. There is no evidence that canine influenza can be transmitted to people or cats.
Most recently, in March of this year, a large outbreak of the flu was reported in Chicago. This strain is different from the one first seen in Florida in 2004, having adapted from an avian flu, rather than one that infects horses. Although a vaccine is available against the 2004 strain, it is not thought to be effective against the new Midwest strain.
If you’ve gotten a flu shot recently, this may all sound familiar. New flu strains that affect humans are continuously emerging. That is why people are encouraged to get a flu vaccine each year because, even though last year’s vaccine is still working, it is just not effective against the new flu viruses that are going around this year. Similarly, dogs vaccinated against the 2004 strain of canine flu can still get sick with the new flu. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available yet for the new strain.
At present, Park Avenue Animal Hospital does not carry an influenza vaccine. When the vaccine first became available in 2009, new canine flu reports were decreasing and the number of cases did not seem to warrant a recommendation to vaccinate. The vaccine requires a booster before it becomes effective and can decrease but not eliminate symptoms and shedding of the virus. To date, we have not diagnosed a single case of canine influenza at Park Avenue and there are no reports of the Chicago strain in Florida.
Prevention advice at present is to avoid traveling with your dog to the Midwest and to avoid any area where large numbers of dogs congregate. If your dog does develop a cough and needs to be treated, please give us a call before you arrive at our clinic. We may ask you to wait outside until other dogs have left the lobby, or bring you in through another entrance, to prevent other animals from possibly being infected. In some cases, it may be necessary to examine your dog without it ever entering the building. Even though we have not yet seen a case at Park Avenue, we do take this disease very seriously and ask for your patience and understanding.