The Course of Canine Flu 2015
The canine flu epidemic that swept through a chunk of the Midwest dog population this winter continued to rear its ugly head in spring.
Veterinary and rescue personnel have had their hands full dealing with more than 1,000 sick dogs during Chicago’s ongoing canine flu epidemic.
As of April 28, the first case of canine influenza in Iowa had been verified in a Sioux City dog that tested positive for the virus, according to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
In Chicago, which has had the most reported cases to date, veterinarians are described as “cautiously optimistic,” reported DNAInfo.com, a city news source. However, in the website’s same April 28 story, a second dog from Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood has died from what is believed to be canine influenza.
In addition to the first reported case in January, more than 1,000 incidences of canine flu have turned up in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Cases in Chicago are believed to be underreported because most area veterinary clinics weren’t even looking for canine flu in the early stages of the outbreak and a test to identify the new strain believed to be responsible wasn’t even available in Cook County until April.
Natalie Marks, DVM, with Chicago’s Blum Animal Hospital, said she believed that as of the last week in April, more than 1,500 dogs might have contracted canine influenza in Chicago alone.
CBS News reported a case as far away as Georgia.
Cook County officials report at least six dogs have died from the illness and say that this is the largest and most sustained canine flu epidemic to hit Chicago.
By all accounts, Scrappy was a very sick dog. A ward of Found Chicago, a no-kill dog rescue, Scrappy came down with the dog flu along with 17 other dogs at the rescue.
He arrived at Found Chicago in March. During the height of the outbreak, Found Chicago isolated 17 sick dogs—only two of its rescue dogs didn’t get the flu—in individual kennels as well as provided around-the-clock care for them.
“Scrappy is definitely in the worst shape of all the dogs in our care, and we’re doing everything we can to help stabilize his condition,” said Juliana Villacorta, executive director of Found Chicago, earlier in April.
Then Scrappy contracted pneumonia.
The good news is that at the end of April, Villacorta reported that Scrappy, despite some residual coughing, is back to his old self.
“His ears are up and he’s actually been playing with a couple of the other dogs that are also recovering, so he’s feeling loads better,” she said.
Villacorta believes her facility has seen the worst of it but remains cautious.
“We are seeing the last wave of dogs to get sick that are coming through their 21-day cycle this week,” she said. “With the dogs in our program, we are at the tail end of it.”
A new strain of canine flu is not something a pet daycare, board facility, shelter or rescue could foresee, let alone plan for.
Found Chicago has a for-profit dog boarding, day care and training subsidiary that took a financial blow during the crisis.
“It definitely impacted our business in ways we had never seen before,” Villacorta said, adding that people with healthy dogs kept them at home to avoid exposure, while sick dogs had to stay home to recover and not affect other dogs.
“Sadly, we weren’t the only rescue or pet care facility that was affected by this,” Villacorta said.
“There were many others that had to close their doors and shut down business altogether for one to two weeks, especially at the height of all of this.”
Unlike many businesses and rescues, Found Chicago is lucky to be right next door to Heal Veterinary Clinic.
Villacorta expressed her gratitude to Derrick Landini, DVM, of Heal, who tended to Scrappy, as well as other Heal veterinarians and staff who donated their time, services and medicines to Found Chicago’s sick dogs.
“It’s great to see the wags and hear the barks again and seeing them back to their selves, and now it’s time to get them adopted out and into their new homes,” she said.
H3N2 Comes Knocking
Initially, the culprit strain in the current canine flu outbreak was thought to be H3H8, an equine influenza A virus that was determined to cause influenza in dogs in 2004 when it was implicated in greyhound deaths at a Florida racetrack.
However, researchers at New York’s Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin say testing confirms that the virus affecting dogs in Chicago and other areas is H3N2—which never has been seen before in North America.
Dog populations in southern China and South Korea are known to harbor H3N2, and researchers believe the current strain originated in Asia but are unclear on how it got to the U.S.
Unlike H3N8, H3N2 might cause illness in cats; however, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Influenza Division have analyzed genetic sequences of the H3N2 canine influenza A virus and found no evidence suggesting an increased potential for this virus to infect humans or cause severe disease in humans. Symptoms in dogs include fever, loss of appetite, coughing, runny nose and lethargy.
There is no vaccine for canine influenza caused by H3N2.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News