Q&A: Keep a sharp eye on canine influenza


How concerned should we be with the threat of canine influenza? And how should we contain the virus if we have an outbreak in the area?

Q. How concerned should we be with the threat of canine influenza? And how should we contain the virus if we have an outbreak in the area?

It depends on where you live, says Dr. Emily Beeler, zoonosis veterinarian with the Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control Program of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Canine influenza is considered endemic in five states: Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. And while Dr. Beeler hasn't seen an outbreak in the Los Angeles area since 2007, the threat is always there.

"We've seen some cases here in Los Angeles, but it hasn't caught fire as much as we thought it might," Dr. Beeler says. "We don't completely understand why."

Because canine influenza is such a new virus, researchers are still working fast and furiously to learn more about it. Dr. Beeler saw the first cases arrive in Los Angeles in 2005 and since then has worked hard to keep the virus at the forefront of pet owners' minds. "It got a great deal of attention here when cases first popped up, but pet owners are paying less attention now," Dr. Beeler says.

Perhaps the canine influenza threat seems less serious because of the hard work that went into containing the 2007 outbreak, which originated at a Los Angeles veterinary clinic. The practice immediately closed down its boarding facility while continuing to operate the veterinary clinic. Though a vaccine for the virus wasn't available at the time, the practice's team members did their best to prevent it from spreading. "They did an excellent job of separating sick patients from healthy ones, as well as using disinfectants," Dr. Beeler says. "It was extremely successful at this clinic."

To mimic this success, you should have a plan in place should an outbreak occur at your clinic. "Create a game plan for each team member," she says. That means figuring out how to isolate pets and prevent the virus from spreading (most veterinary disinfectants will take care of this, Dr. Beeler says). Of course, the best way to prevent influenza and other respiratory diseases is to vaccinate against them, so make sure your clients are aware of this option.

But don't stop there. Head online regularly to check for the latest updates on canine influenza, then share the information with other team members and clients—for a list of useful resources, head to dvm360.com/canineinfluenza. In addition, contact your local animal health authorities to find out whether they're tracking the virus—that data can help determine how the virus could affect your patients.

Finally, keep in mind that there's no way to predict how canine influenza could evolve over time, Dr. Beeler says. That's why it's so important for you and your fellow team members to track the virus—and make sure you're prepared should an outbreak occur.

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