WILMINGTON — A new strain of canine flu has been spreading throughout the southeast, infecting nearly all of the dogs who come in contact with it, according to research compiled by Merck Animal Health.
Dr. Melissa Bourgeois, a specialist in veterinary immunology and virology, said the strain – H3N2 – was first isolated in Korea in 2007 and was first seen in the United States in Chicago in 2015, but only at low levels.
“We first saw it in Chicago, but on very few cases,” said Bourgeois. “Then, about two weeks ago, we saw an explosion in cases all across the southeast, including North Carolina.”
Bourgeois said the cases been linked to at least two dog shows, held in Perry, Georgia, and Deland, Florida in late May. Since 2015, cases in 30 states have been reported, with an increase in cases in the southeast. The flu is spread from dog to dog by “social contact.”
“Social contact is really any time your dog is near another dog, meaning the groomers, the vet, boarding facilities, even the dog park – anything like that,” Bourgeois said.
According to Bourgeois, dogs have no immunity to the influenza, which is extremely contagious. While most of the dogs infected have recovered, Bourgeois said several fatalities have been recorded. Merck Animal Health utilized the syndromic surveillance data of Cynda Crawford from the University of Florida, Edward Dubovi of Cornell University, Sanjay Kapil of Oklahoma State University, the Rhode Island State Veterinarian’s office and IDEXX Laboratories.
The symptoms of the flu include:
- Dry hacking cough
- Upper respiratory distress
- Lack of appetite
- Lethargy and malaise
- Discharge from eyes and nose
- In severe cases, pneumonia
Bourgeois recommended people with “social dogs” – those who will likely come in contact with other dogs (i.e. nearly all dogs) – should be vaccinated. Because the vaccination process for H3N2 takes at least four weeks, Bourgeois recommended pet owners think ahead if their dog is going to be boarded or around other “social” situations.
In addition to contacting their local veterinarians, Bourgeois said that Tuesday, June 20, is Southeast Dog Flu Vaccination Day. She noted that pet owners should contact veterinarian offices ahead of time; in many cases, vet techs may examine dogs in their car or outside to avoid infected other animals. More information about canine influenza is available online.
Benjamin Schachtman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on twitter, and (910) 538-2001.