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Canine flu confirmed in 22states


National Report - - "This is the new parvo," an expert says of the canine influenza outbreak now confirmed in 22 states.

NATIONAL REPORT — "This is the new parvo," an expert says of the canine influenza outbreak now confirmed in 22 states.

Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, an expert in canine influenza from the University of Florida, reports that this airborne virus is more widespread than once thought. Preliminary data show a 16 percent infection rate and a 7-percent mortality rate, which Crawford believes is likely low based on the small sample.

The effects of canine influenza have authorities comparing the virus' potential to a more prolific parvovirus.

"Influenza is actually more contagious than parvovirus," Crawford explains, "because it can be transmitted through the air, and dogs were just as naive of this virus as they were to parvo when it came to the U.S. in 1978."

Dogs in 50 states have been tested for the virus, with more than 4,000 veterinarians submitting blood samples for analysis. With so many states reporting positive results, this influenza is not simply confined to shelters or racetracks, but veterinary practices as well.

"This isn't a dirty shelter disease," says Dr. Miranda Spindel, director of Veterinary Services at the Larimer Humane Society (LHS) in Colorado. "Canine influenza is in veterinary clinics, boarding facilities. Anywhere dogs go, so does this virus."

Spindel, who is starting a residency in shelter medicine at Colorado State University, says any open-intake facility receiving and dismissing dogs can have a dog incubating and shedding virulent disease. She ramped up on canine influenza when LHS was hit with an outbreak.

Canines are the newest mammalian host for this virus, Crawford says. "There is no indication that canines will be the last species to be hit with emerging strains."

Fighting an outbreak

Officials are battling canine influenza brush fires throughout the United States.

Here is the latest from some areas impacted by canine influenza:

  • All Florida greyhound racetracks have issued quarantines on their dogs. All racers remain at their home track.

"There is no regulatory body that can make race tracks shut down by mandate in Florida," Crawford says. "But it is a good thing that quarantines took place to minimize the spread."

  • When 15 greyhounds died due to the illness, the Naples-Fort Meyers Greyhound Track issued a quarantine.

  • Two dogs reportedly died at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

  • The Bonita Springs, Florida dog track cut back to eight to 11 races daily and canceled all Saturday races after a consulting veterinarian gave the recommendation in order to give the dogs adequate rest between races.

  • In May, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter in Cheyenne, Wyo., depopulated its shelter after 72 dogs were infected or exposed to the virus.

Forty-two dogs were euthanized over the course of one day, says Alan Cohen, director of the facility. Nineteen that hadn't been directly exposed to the adoptable population were separated and treated, while 11 were in foster care.

"It was a daunting task, but it was the approach to the problem that was chosen by the veterinarian who was here at the time," he adds. "That was without a doubt the worst hour and a half of my life."

The decision was made after an attempt to treat the infected dogs failed. Cohen says he believes stress played a large role in the dogs failed recovery, and the ability to recover diminishes in line with the concentration of infected dogs in an area.

  • In October 2005, the Delaware Humane Association (DHA) in Wilmington, was forced to close its doors to adopters for eights weeks after a single dog tracked canine influenza into its kennel.

"Unknowingly we brought a West Highland Terrier into the facility on a Wednesday; by Saturday, the entire kennel was coughing and was infected with the virus," says Angie Wells, DHA's medical manager.

Blood samples were sent to Cornell for confirmation. At that point, the shelter sent letters to all area veterinarians and to Pennsylvania, where the infected dog originated.

"I know of a veterinary clinic in the area that had an outbreak that was not announced publicly, Wells adds. "They are afraid they'll lose clients."

DHA lost $5,000 in adoption money and spent $14,000 on treating 25 infected animals as well as cleaning supplies. Three of the dogs developed pneumonia from the severity of the secondary infections. One dog was euthanized when its already existing renal disease worsened.

"Since we are a privately owned organization, we had the luxury of closing to treat the kennel. We were fortunate in that respect."

  • Canine Companions for Independence facility in Oceanside, Calif., had 64 dogs infected with canine influenza virus. The nonprofit organization trains dogs for six months to become aides for disabled people.

Fortunately none of the dogs succumbed to the virus," says Jeanine Konopelski, spokeswoman for the facility.

Origins of an outbreak

The first reported cases of canine influenza were in racing Greyhounds. Officials theorize this influenza jumped from the horse to the canine.

Dr. Peter Fernandes, owner of Aardvark Animal Hospital near Miami, speculates further that transmission could be linked to Greyhounds eating horse meat.

"Many trainers feel it is best for the endurance and speed of greyhounds to feed them raw horse meat," Fernandes says.

Crawford concurs citing strong evidence indicates transmission of equine influenza to dogs.

"What needs to be considered is that the virus replicates efficiently in dogs," she adds. "A parallel to this is of the 200-plus people infected with avian influenza, none achieved the infection from another human. All were exposed to poultry. That's not to say that won't change."

Influenza-infected dogs, present with:

  • Sneezing, coughing and fever

  • Nasal discharge

  • Labored breathing.

Of those infected, 20 percent show no signs of disease, according to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Of the 80 percent that exhibit signs, two forms have been observed:

  • Mild infection — Symptoms include a low-grade fever, nasal discharge, and a persistent cough that could last up to three weeks.

  • Severe infection — Symptoms include a high fever, increased respiratory rates with difficulty breathing, and other indications of pneumonia.

The secondary pneumonia is where the real danger lies.

"I have treated many dogs infected with this virus and to see one die from it is something I'll never forget," Fernandes says.

Fernandes recalls a necropsy he performed on a Greyhound that had been bleeding from its nose and mouth before death.

"When I opened its lungs, blood poured out," he says. "As a veterinarian, I wanted to cry thinking about the pain the animal endured before finally succumbing to the disease."

Available treatments target the secondary bacterial infections and dehydration. Crawford says she is privy to rumors indicating drug companies have submitted vaccines for canine influenza to government regulators for approval.

"The problem with this virus is that it is constantly mutating, and a new vaccine will have to be created annually to prevent outbreaks," she says.

Epidemiology 101: Isolate the disease

Spindel says dog movement within LHS stopped with the outbreak. "Any new dog coming into the shelter came in through a clean area and was handled by clean staff," she says. "This allowed a clear picture of the epidemiology of influenza in our building. We continued this process for a full two weeks from the time the last known exposure occurred, well over the infectious period of influenza. Although regular cleaning and vaccination protocols were in place, quarantine rules were established with footbaths outside each room, and protective clothing and boots in each dog room."

Additional biosecurity protocols for any facility could include:

  • Staff member room assignments to limit transmission.

  • Reduced traffic in infected areas.

  • Five-day quarantines for new intakes.

  • Staff education of fomites control via foot baths.

"The reality is that influenza is likely present in our community, and cases may continue on a low level for some time in Colorado shelters," Spindel says. "This is a problem that is of epidemic caliber for facilities that have new dogs entering on a daily basis.

Influenza Facts

  • Hurricane Katrina dogs infected with canine influenza virus at the Delaware Humane Association had much higher antibody titers compared to other dogs infected at the shelter, a fact being investigated by Dr. Cynda Crawford, University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • The virus has been confirmed in Hawaii. Bans recently were lifted on animals entering the islands before a quarantine period to discount rabies. Therefore, dogs with canine influenza virus have crossed the state.

Of the states testing positive for canine influenza out of 100-plus submitted samples:

  • 21 percent positive in Florida

  • 21 percent positive in New York

  • 27 percent positive in Connecticut

  • 56 percent positive in Colorado

  • 43 percent positive in Wyoming

— Source: Dr. Cynda Crawford, University of Florida

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