With dozens of dogs reportedly affected, Florida officials are calling for veterinarians and pet owners to create “community immunity” to canine influenza through vaccination.
The highly contagious H3N2 strain of dog flu was reported in Florida last week and has since spread to over a dozen dogs in northern and central Florida. Now, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is hoping to create “community immunity.”
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, this outbreak is the first to be reported in the United States since the 2015 Chicago outbreak that affected about 1000 dogs.
The dogs with confirmed infection in Florida had attended 1 of 2 recent dog shows—1 in Perry, Georgia and 1 in DeLand, Florida—where the virus was able to spread easily.
Some of the affected dogs are being treated at University of Florida veterinary hospitals, where officials say no deaths related to the virus have been reported.
Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of shelter medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, is credited with discovering the H3N2 virus back in 2004.
“This is a highly contagious virus to dogs, just like influenza virus is to people. There is an imminent threat for dogs to be exposed to this virus in this state now,” she said. “It is very important for both veterinarians and dog owners in the state of Florida to have a very heightened awareness of the presence of this virus.”
On behalf of the college, Dr. Crawford is now asking owners to ask their veterinarians to vaccinate their dogs for canine influenza. "The more dogs in a community that we can vaccinate to build up community immunity, the better chance we have of keeping that virus out," she said.
While it is very uncommon for infected dogs to die from the virus, it is still important for the veterinary community to be aware of the clinical signs:
Dogs found to be infected with the virus should be quarantined for at least 4 weeks because the virus can live for 24 hours and is highly contagious. Canine influenza cannot spread to humans.
Most dogs do not have immunity to canine influenza and most are also not vaccinated due to it being so uncommon. With this new outbreak, though, vaccination is now highly important and necessary—especially in areas where the virus has been reported.
Nearly all dogs exposed to canine influenza virus become infected, but only 80% show signs.
“It’s not going to be easy to contain,” Marta Lista, DVM, who practices at Trail Animal Hospital in West Miami, Florida, said. “If [infected dogs] go to a dog park and sneeze and this spreads 10 feet, this thing can spread very quickly.”