Influenza is known to have afflicted humans for over 500 years, and its pandemics bring death and mayhem whenever and wherever they strike. Flu viruses infect masses of warm-blooded beings that include wild and domestic birds, pigs and horses, and now dogs are also affected. Canine flu was first identified at a Florida greyhound racetrack in 2003, but in 2015 incidences of one of the two strains of dog flu known to scientists and veterinarians have become alarmingly numerous. This virus, H3N2, was brought into the United States by one dog from Korea in spring of 2015. Just in that short amount of time, canine flu H3N2 has progressively spread and has been documented in at least 26 states. Sample canine virus submissions remain voluntary in the U.S. so the actual data can be considered incomplete.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that the dog flu comes from two viruses – H3N8 [originally in horses] and H3N2 [originally in birds]. According to the study recently published by NPR, H3N2 was brought into Chicago by a Korean dog, ultimately leading to flu outbreaks and resulting in the major spread of the virus to the 26 states. Notably, the canine flu has not gone away. In fact, Cornell’s researchers are aware of 31 reported U.S. cases ranging from Dec. 19 through Feb. 2. Health officials confirmed a total of 820 positive tests of dog flu in 2015.
According to veterinarians, America’s dogs are endangered by the flu virus because they have no built up immunity. And another important factor is that the virus is highly contagious. The American Veterinary Medical Association has advised that dog flu can easily spread through the air and from dog to dog. The virus readily disperses through contaminated food and water and containers. Humans can also scatter the virus if they have contact with both infected and uninfected dogs.
Nearly 80 percent of flu-infected dogs show only mild symptoms such as a cough, loss of appetite, light nasal discharge and fatigue, and will recover on their own. Symptoms in very young dogs or senior dogs, especially those with other health issues, can become more severe and may involve high fevers, breathing difficulties and pneumonia. Still other dogs show no symptoms at all. It is believed that less than 10 percent of flu-sickened dogs die. Experts believe that virus H3N2 spreads more rapidly H3N8, and dogs remain contagious for a longer period of time.
To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza viruses from dogs to people and there has not been a single reported case of human infection with a canine influenza virus.
There has been no indication that humans can get the virus from dogs. But the fact is that a virus can mutate, and as with the human flu, emerge as a more substantial threat the next time around. A Cornell University veterinary virologist, Edward Dubovi, tracks the virus and states. “Like any flu virus, it keeps changing.” It has been reported in Korea that cats have been sickened by the dog flu, but no such cases have been reported in the U.S. as of this date.
Pet owners should discuss the question of whether to vaccinate their dogs with their veterinarians. Ask also if there are known dog flu cases in the surrounding locations. A vaccine was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS] in 2009; it costs $25 and is initially administered twice, with a two-week break and must then be repeated annually. Many experts believe that dogs do not necessarily require the vaccine unless they frequent dog parks, doggie day care, travel extensively, or are otherwise exposed to dogs.
Consider this simple regimen:
~ Be aware of dog flu in your surrounding area and arm yourself with knowledge. Use common sense for your pets and take any necessary precautions.
~ Remember dog flu is highly contagious and stays in the infected dog for at least two weeks, possibly longer. Avoid activities where your dog(s) can become infected from other dogs. If another dog is sneezing and coughing, don’t let your dog go anywhere near it.
~ Keep your dog’s toys and feed bowls clean with soap and hot water which can prevent spread of the flu. Use soap and water on your hands and supplement with a sanitizer when you return home.
~ Decide with your veterinarian whether to vaccinate your dog. Be sure no infected dogs have been at the vet’s office before your dog–ask.