The dog flu spreads (canine influenza virus) has hit the Atlanta area, and may be “incubating” in Charleston. And before the summer is over, may infiltrate other areas as well since dogs do travel so much, and are so social.
This Spring, the dog flu was identified in the Chicago area, ultimately a few cases led to a full out epidemic according to Dr. Donna Alexander, Cook County administrator for the Department of Animal and Rabies Control. In the Chicago area, not knowing it was the dog flu (which hasn’t been seen in the area for a few years), first the flu needed to be identified, but soon scientists in the lab noted that they were looking at the dog flu all right, but not the H3N8 dog flu previously identified.
Researchers quickly figured out they were looking at a different dog flu strain, identified as a flu found in Southeast Asia, H3N2. To this day, no one knows how that flu strain managed to make its way to the U.S.
In all, from late March through early June Alexander suggests likely thousands of dogs were sickened, and at least eight died as a result of the dog flu, until finally the number of cases significantly diminished – though the flu has not disappeared from the area.
In the Atlanta area, the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia has performed 140 lab tests resulting in 55 confirmed positive CIV cases, all identified as H3N2. It’s important to understand, these are the results of only one lab, so the number of positive flu cases is likely far higher. So far, there are no reported Atlanta area CIV fatalities.
In Chicago – at its worst – some clinics saw 20 or so coughing sick dog flu patients a day. Now, in the Atlanta area, Dr. Laura Smallwood an Internal Medicine Specialist in Decatur says clinics seeing the most cases are treating three to four sick dogs daily.
“We have a head start over Chicago because we knew what to look for, and because of the media we’ve done many dog owners even come in knowing what their dog likely has,” Smallwood says.
In the Atlanta area, definitely if the dog flu is going on anywhere near where you live – be cautious about interacting with all other dogs, not only sick dogs. The reason for this, dogs are infectious before they get sick, and also 25 percent (approximately) of the dogs with flu feel great and have no symptoms, but are still very contagious.
Veterinarians suggest this means – be careful or totally avoid boarding your dog, also avoid dog daycare, dog training classes, even going inside elevators with other dogs. No socializing on street walks, and no dog park visits. Instead of taking the pup to the pet store, make the trip alone. The best prevention is to simply prevent exposure to dogs who may be carrying the virus.
Smallwood says ask your veterinarian about the canine flu vaccine. She’s dubious about whether the current available vaccine will be effective for the H3N2 virus, but no one is certain. There may (or not) be some cross protection. Certainly the vaccine prevents (or lessens symptoms) for the H3N8 virus.
For dogs in the Chicago area – it seems for most dogs the risk of flu today is minimal (especially for dogs who happen to have the H3N8 vaccine). The general advice is to return to dog parks and beaches, being social with other dogs – including dog training and daycare and boarding. In others words, canine life back to normal.
If you live in any of the 35 or so states where there is (thus far) no reported dog flu, don’t worry. If you live in any of the states where dog flu has been reported, don’t worry (except for in Georgia at the moment). However, H3N2 was just identified in two dogs in Charleston, SC. Certainly, taking some precautions in Charleston may make some sense, but these two dogs may not spread the virus (at least that is the hope). It might also be more dogs are affected already.
However, no matter where you live, if you note nasal discharge, coughing and or sneezing, unexplained lethargy or loss of appetite – then contact your veterinarian. If you live in the Atlanta area, Smallwood’s reiterates, “Stay away from other dogs – but don’t panic.”
Learn more about the Canine Influenza Virus HERE.