Dogs in Florida confirmed as infected with the H3N2 strain of canine influenza virus since May has now reached 82 with four confirmed deaths. Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando announced that dog adoptions at the Orlando facility, which was shut down for a time due to dog flu, reopened on Thursday, July 13. Intakes remain closed at the Orlando facility, at least for now. Dog flu was also identified among dogs participating in Florida dog shows and at kennels and boarding facilities in the state.
Louisville Metro Animal Services (LMAS) is also dealing with an outbreak of dog flu. And, dog flu in unknown numbers is spreading throughout the Louisville area. H3N2 dog flu remains endemic in the Chicago area, and continues popping up around the country.
Guesstimates are all over the map.Look at the map and at least a dozen states have experienced confirmed H3N2 canine influenza virus since May. It’s likely that more than 500 dogs have been sickened (how many more than 500, no one knows). Death rates are around three to five percent, so using 500 dogs with flu as a base, around 15 to 25 dogs have died, which is a conservative estimate. With human flu, seniors and the immunocompromised are at the highest risk. And, while senior and immunocompromised dogs are at risk of developing dog flu, any individual dog at any age may be susceptible to pneumonia, which may ultimately lead to death. Among those dogs that have died of flu are those who were considered healthy before getting the bug.
“Dogs owners who say, ‘My healthy dog won’t get sick’ are not being realistic,” says Dr. Edward Dubovi, director of virology section at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell.
However, it’s important to understand that really no one has any idea how many dogs have been sickened with the most virulent dog flu strain (H3N2) since May, as most dogs are not actually tested for flu, and testing is the only way to confirm numbers. So, it’s likely that many more times the reported number of dogs being sickened by the flu have actually gotten the flu.
Dr. Jerry Klein, who has continued to deal with dog flu at MedVet Chicago and also as medical director of the American Kennel Club, says encouraging diagnostics is important. Clearly, veterinarians should know specifically what’s going on with a dog. Is it canine infectious respiratory disease complex (such as Bordetella or canine parainfluenza), or is it canine influenza virus or even a co-infection? It’s also important to get a grasp on what’s happening in a community, so testing helps veterinarians with a bigger picture. However, convincing pet owners the of the need to know this information can be challenging since treatment is often the same. And treatment, of course, begins instantly. No one wants to wait for the test results to come back. “I get it,” says Klein. “When income is limited, I’d rather see the client spend dollars on treatment.”
Here are five undeniable dog flu facts, confirmed by Dr. Marikay Campbell of Port Royal, South Carolina:
- The H3N2 strain of dog flu arrived in the U.S. in the Chicago area in 2015 from Southeast Asia. No one knows specifically how that occurred, but the virus strain is novel to the U.S., so dogs have no built-in antibodies (unless they’ve been vaccinated, or just got over the flu). So, once exposed, nearly all dogs get the virus.
- Though the virus will hit any (unvaccinated) dog that is exposed, around 80 percent get ill (a handful of those seriously ill, and some die), and about 20 percent are asymptomatic, but are still contagious. Their owners have no idea their dog, who is acting totally normal, is spreading the virus.
- The vaccine is defined as a killed-vaccine, so it’s impossible for dogs to get flu from the vaccine.
- The vaccine, being a killed vaccine, has a particularly low number of side effects.
- For the vaccine to be effective, a booster is required two to four weeks after the initial shot.