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January 2016 – Canine Influenza

It is not only flu season for humans, Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) has been identified in Western Washington.   Recently, 80 to 90 dogs that that were at a Kent boarding facility developed respiratory symptoms and the boarding facility closed down temporarily to stop the spread of the disease. Two of the dogs tested positive for canine influenza.

There have been cases of canine influenza, type H3N8, in the United States since 2004.  But in 2015, a new strain, H2N3, caused an outbreak in Chicago and since then has been documented in more than 25 states, but until now, not in Washington State.   Because H2N3 is new to the United States, dogs here don’t have any natural immunity, and any dog exposed will become ill.  Transmission of the virus is similar to human influenza.  It can be passed directly from one dog to another, airborne through coughing or sneezing, and from contact with contaminated surfaces.

Symptoms of CIV include coughing, nasal discharge, eye infection, and a fever.  It is often confused with canine kennel cough infection. Most cases are self-limiting and mild, and symptoms can last 10-30 days.  Treatment is usually rest and sometimes cough suppressant.  A small number of cases progress to more severe symptoms, including high fever and pneumonia that in rare cases can be fatal.  For these cases, intensive care is required.

The best protection against infection is to limit exposure to the virus, this means avoiding places where there are groups of dogs.  For those dogs that are at risk (going to dog shows, grooming and boarding facilities, dog parks, etc.) vaccination should be considered.  There are vaccines available for both strains of canine influenza and it is unlikely if there is any cross-protection between the virus types.  So in the face of an outbreak, knowing which strain to vaccinate against is important. It is important to remember that the vaccine may reduce the duration and intensity of clinical signs but doesn’t prevent symptoms completely.  In addition, two doses are required 2-4 weeks apart initially to give good protection.  At the time of writing the strain of CIV had not been identified.

Currently, there is no indication that people can be infected with CIV.  In Asia, the H2N3 virus did infect a few cats, but the virus strain in the U.S. is thought to be a porcine (pig) virus, not an avian (bird) virus.

So, if you actually are still reading this article you are probably thinking, “What the heck do I do with this information?”  There is clearly no black or white answer.  Ideally, keeping your dog away from other dogs is the best prevention.  But that isn’t realistic.  Vaccinating a dog for both strains of CIV seems excessive.  Since this is most likely the most recent strain, H2N3, vaccinating against that strain might make the most sense.  At least until we have the final answer regarding what strain it is.  And when vaccinating, remember, there is the 2-4 week time before the dog gets the second booster that it still isn’t protected adequately.  So avoiding exposure during that time is still the safest bet.

I don’t have the perfect answer, to vaccinate or not.  I think it is different on a case by case basis.  If you have questions about your pet and wonder if CIV vaccination makes sense, call your dog’s doctor.  Together you can make the right decision for your dog.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or input, at our Facebook page or website, wildernessvet.com.

I’d also like to welcome Dr. Laurie Wieringa to our team of doctors.  She is a great addition to our team.  She is experienced and compassionate.  I know our clients and patients are going to love her and she helps us increase our availability to help facilitate getting our patients seen in a timely manner and managing emergencies better.

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