A Possible Serious Epidemic-Dogs have No Natural Immunity
Dog lovers need to be aware of a new infectious disease called dog flu. So far there have been no cases identified in New Mexico but it’s been seen as far west as Texas. This virus can be transmitted through the air by coughing as well as by contamination of equipment, clothing, and the hands of caretakers. Seen first in racing greyhounds in Florida dog flu can spread rapidly in kennel and hospital settings.
Like any epidemic in its early stages it’s hard to say whether this will become a major problem. It is worrisome because dogs have no natural immunity against it, meaning that virtually every exposure results in infection. So far there is no vaccine but with research heating up there may be one in the future.
Reports from Florida, where the study of dog flu is ongoing, indicate that the most common form of the infection is mild with symptoms of a cough and nasal discharge that can last for 3 weeks. But it’s the severe form of pneumonia, with fevers of 104-106 degrees, that has been responsible for the death rate of 1-5% (percent). Dog flu is serious business-much worse than severe kennel cough.
Any dog with coughing, difficulty breathing, or a pus-like nasal discharge should be examined and tested. Treatment consists of antibiotics for all cases; for the severely ill IV fluids, plus the antiviral drug Tamiflu are necessary. Isolation of sick dogs and careful disinfection are the only good ways of preventing spread of the disease.
At this point there is no need for drastic measures but we should all be vigilant. I’ll keep my ear to the tracks and let you know if our state gets hit with dog flu. I promise to spread any news of a vaccine too.
More on Canine Influenza
I recently received two questions regarding the prevention of spread of infectious diseases.
I read your column regarding the possible dog-flu threat. The transmission of this flu by “clothing and the hands of caretakers” concerns me as a volunteer who loves to walk and pet the dogs. I don’t want to bring anything back home to my healthy pets. And, I am concerned that this may strike fear in other volunteers who are desperately needed to keep interacting with shelter dogs. Do you think basic hand-washing or Purell use is sufficient to keep us humans from bringing this virus home?
My son’s dog (2 year old black lab) in Phoenix has Parvo, is home after a week in hospital. If I visit Phoenix, what is the risk to my 3-dog herd here in Albuquerque? Should I update their shots? Clorox my shoes & clothes after visit?
Contaminated hands, table surfaces, floors, and equipment could spread canine flu like wildfire. Parvo may actually be even worse. This virus is remarkably hearty; it can live up to 6-12 months without contact with dog fluids or tissues. Precautions are definitely in order.
For the latest info on the canine influenza threat I contacted Dr. Flint Taylor of the Veterinary Diagnostic Services Division (VDS) of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. The good news is that research is heating up. Studies are ongoing not only at the University of Florida but at Texas A & M and Cornell too, where viral sequencing work is being done to better understand this disease. The VDS lab already has a 95 percent reliable screening test for canine influenza. Best done on fluid taken from a suspected dog’s lungs (a technique called trans-tracheal wash), nasal discharge can also work. Turnaround time for the test is two days.
Good sanitation is critical; without it we could face a disastrous epidemic. After handling pets with suspected canine flu, Parvo, or any viral infection you should wash your hands, clothing, and shoes with a dilution of 1 part Clorox to 30 parts water. An equally effective alternative would be a quaternary ammonia disinfectant. Either will kill on contact but Purell won’t cut it.
Prevention is another high priority for the healthy dog population. A canine flu vaccine is probably more than a year away but Parvo has been preventable for a long time. A series of vaccinations for all puppies under age sixteen weeks followed by annual boosters for two years, then every three years for life is safe and reliable. Parvo is still alive and kicking but so far VDS reports no confirmed cases of canine flu in our state. I’ll continue to use this column keep New Mexico’s dog owners informed.