Friday, October 7, 2011

Canine Influenza Virus H3N8

Hello Lab Fans,

This is a follow up to a Facebook post that we sent out last night.  This notification is not meant to send you into a panic, but is simply to introduce awareness.   There is currently a "new" canine influenza virus that has been introduced to the dog population.  Originally discovered in 2004, this virus known as Canine Influenza Virus H3N8 first showed up at a Greyhound racetrack in Florida.  Because both horses and greyhounds shared the track, the virus is thought to have mutated from an equine virus.  Since 2004, the virus has been positively identified in 38 states including Texas.  Outbreaks have been recorded most recently in San Antonio, Texas, however positive cases have been identified in Austin as well.

Dogs that frequent dog parks, boarding facilities, dog shows, pet stores, humane societies/shelters, veterinary clinics, and doggy daycare centers are the most at risk, as well as older, infirm and those dogs with immune system deficiencies.  Because this is a "new" virus, nearly all exposed animals will develop systems.  There are two forms of the virus.  The milder form is similar to the bordetella or kennel cough virus, however with the sever form some dogs develop a hemorrhagic pneumonia that often leads to death.  The percentage of death that occurs with the virus is 8%.  Further, it is impossible to predict whether a dog will develop hemorrhagic symptoms.  

Symptoms include coughing, ocular and nasal discharge, fevers, lethargy, unwillingness to eat and sneezing.  The disease can be transmitted via sneezing, coughing, toy sharing and also by people who carry the disease on their clothing from interacting with a positive patient.  The most contagious period of the disease occurs in the first 48-72 hours prior to noticeable symptoms.  Symptoms begin to manifest Day 3 - Day 7 and can last two to three weeks.  Unfortunately, there is no distinguishing characteristic that sets this virus apart from other canine respiratory infections making it nearly impossible for a positive diagnoses without laboratory testing of a nasal swab.  If your pet comes down with the virus, treatment is largely supportive as there is no antibiotic that will "cure" a virus.  However, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic to combat secondary bacterial infections that may develop or accompany the virus.

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer has developed a vaccine against this virus.  Much like human flu vaccines, this vaccine does not necessarily prevent the disease but decreases the contagion time and lessens the severity of symptoms.  Currently, some veterinarians in the Austin area are recommending that your dog be vaccinated if it meets that of a high risk candidate.  The vaccine is given under the skin (not in the muscle) and must be followed with a booster three weeks after the initial dose.  After the initial dose and booster are given, annual vaccines are recommended.

To read more about Canine Influenza Virus H3N8 please click here.

Heart of Texas Lab Rescue encourages all dog owners to discuss this Canine Influenza Virus with their veterinarian and decide whether the vaccine is right for your dog. (Cats are not affected.)