Dog flu or canine influenza virus H3N2 strain arrived likely in Chicago in 2015 and began to sicken dogs. This dog flu strain arrived from southeast Asia but no one knows exactly how. What is known is that thousands of dogs in the Chicago area were sickened and some died, likely a few dozen.
People travel with their dogs, so easily and quickly the flu spread across the country. as this strain of dog flu is particularly virulent. While the vaccine specific for this strain was made available remarkably fast, of course, it took a while. And even then, not all dogs are vaccinated. And unless vaccinated, dogs have no immunity to this novel virus in the U.S. Also, about 20 percent of dogs exposed don’t actually get sick but remain contagious. So dog owners have no idea to keep their apparently healthy dog away from other dogs.
From late 2016 into early 2017 dog flu reports – while still out there, appeared to be uncommon, except in Chicago. In Chicago, H3N2 had settled in Animal Care & Control, the City’s municipal shelter, and various other shelters. In Northwest Indiana, the same occurred, and some cats at an effected shelter even were confirmed with H3N2. In 2017, H3N2 occurred in Los Angeles, apparently unrelated to existing H3N2 in the U.S., also brought into the country from imported dogs.
Many scientists now use the term endemic to describe the H3N2 dog flu strain in Chicago, meaning it is in the environment and will stay there.
This May H3N2 popped up in a big way, quickly spreading to its current outbreak proportions. Here’s what occurred: Dog flu was identified at two American Kennel Club dog shows, in Perry, GA and Deland, FL. Based on available reports dogs who were in these places were first identified with flu.
When dog flu is in a community, say a boarding facility, the dog goes home with the virus maybe a mile away. When dog flu hit dogs show, dogs go home maybe several states away, and spread flu to their kennel, and potentially the community at large. At this juncture, the current H3N2 outbreak has been identified in 11 states with likely at least 300 sickened dogs and tragically some deaths. However, the total number of states that have experienced H3N2 is far greater, now adding up to most of the U.S.
There’s lots of good news:
- A vaccine is available for H3N2 (and another vaccine, called the bivalent, which covers H3N2 and the dog flu strain which initially hit the U.S., called H3N8.)
- Those in the dog show community have been kept in the loop from day one by American Kennel Club veterinarian Dr. Jerry Klein. As it happens, Klein is from Chicago, and was at the emergency clinic at Ground Zero for dog flu in 2015-2016, now called MedVet Chicago, Klein needed to deal with the outbreak at its worst in the Windy City , so he fully understood what was likely happening even as diagnostic labs confirmed. While some exhibitors wanted to bury their heads in the sand or even reportedly show dogs they knew were ill or at least exposed, the overwhelming majority became quickly educated. And this is a group that’s generally filled with educated dog owners anyway. Many began to immediately vaccinate, and not show again until after the booster (required for the dog flu vaccine) was given several weeks later knowing this was the responsible thing to do. At the very least, they were sharing what they knew in social media. Also dog show dogs often don’t interact as much with other dogs as average city pets, limiting (albeit not preventing) community exposure.
- The H3N2 virus has not appeared in any animal shelter directly associated with this outbreak,, and only some cases have been reported among dogs not associated with dog show dogs. This means the virus has only popped up in the general community in a limited way, at least so far.
HOWEVER, experts warn that anything can still happen. The flu can fizzle out if enough people involved with dog shows vaccinate, and there’s a lot of good luck. Still the concern is that flu is in the general population, and this is the season for boarding dogs (as people head for vacations), and most often travel with dogs associated with American Kennel Club events or people just traveling with their pets (potentially continuing to spread flu). So, it’s a matter of ‘wait and see what happens.’