Canine Influenza Virus (Dog Flu)

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The canine flu virus, also referred to as Canine Influenza Virus, Greyhound Disease, and Race Flu, is considered highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs. It was originally identified in 2005 and last years news of it flooded the internet and news. There are possible cases being documented by veterinarians in almost every state but there is not a good communication system between states to determine the full extent of the virus. The virus can cause coughing, high fevers, nasal discharge and a fatal pneumonia..

It has been suggested that 80% of dogs exposed to the virus will develop an infection. Most dogs will only have mild coughing however puppies and older dogs are at greatest risk for fatalities associated with the virus. The number of dogs at risk from dying from this virus may be anywhere from 1 to 10%.

According to Dr. Dick Slemons, an authority on influenza viruses at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the disease is associated most often with dogs housed in a high-density population or boarding kennel. The infectious agent is transmitted by direct contact with respiratory secretions through the air or by contact with contaminated surfaces. It can be spread by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs with contaminated objects.

The virus has been primarily documented in shelters, boarding facilities, pet stores and dog tracks.

The incubation period (time from exposure to symptoms) is estimated to be 2 -5 days.

The canine influenza virus is an influenza H3N8 influenza virus that was originally a horse virus. It is not a human virus nor is it contagious to humans. The H3N8 equine virus has been known to exist in horses for 40 years. It is believed by scientists for the virus to have adapted from horses to cause illness in dogs.

The virus was discovered by Dr. Cynda Crawford, an immunologist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, who began investigating the first outbreak at a racetrack in Jacksonville, FL in January 2004. The virus made national media attention after Dr. Crawford and colleagues published an article in the September 26, 2005 edition of Science Magazine entitled "Transmission of Equine Influenza Virus to Dogs".

It is often mistaken for infections caused by kennel cough (Bordetlla bronchiseptica/parainfluenza virus complex. The virus may appear similar to kennel cough, which is a highly contagious inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchial tree caused by a contagious virus (adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus) or bacterium (Bordetella bronchiseptica). However, with most cases of kennel cough, a mild to moderate cough without other symptoms is usually self-limiting; however, occasional cases become lingering and cause chronic bronchitis. With this new virus, the cough is often associated with high temperatures, coughs and nasal discharge.

There is no evidence that the dog virus can spread to humans, cats or other animal types. So far, it is believed that the virus is species specific and only spread dog to dog.

What to Watch For

Watch for a variety of symptoms that can vary in severity.

  • Signs of upper respiratory problems such as conjunctivitis (irritated eyes), rhinitis (runny nose) or sneezing may be observed.

  • Cough. The classic symptoms are coughing that worsen with activity or excitement and can persist for minutes. If secondary bacterial pneumonia develops, the dog often shows signs of illness such as loss of appetite, depression, or fever.

  • Fever (high as 106 degrees F)

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of appetite

  • Depression

  • Runny nose

  • No symptoms. Some dogs have asymptomatic infections.

    Any of these signs should prompt a visit to see your veterinarian in order to be certain pneumonia has not set in. Symptoms can last for up to four weeks.

  • Diagnosis

    A complete medical history may help to reveal recent exposure to a kennel or other dogs. However, it will be difficult in some situations to differentiate this virus from the common "Kennel Cough" virus mentioned above. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize it and exclude other diseases. These tests may include:

  • A chest X-ray may be recommended to determine if pneumonia is present.

  • Routine laboratory blood tests-a complete blood count (CBC) or blood chemistry panel is not necessary unless your pet is showing signs of generalized illness, fever or loss of appetite.

  • A fecal flotation should be done to exclude intestinal parasites.

  • Blood titers – Testing for the virus is being done through veterinary diagnostic centers. The test can be performed by using testing respiratory secretions at the time of disease onset or by blood samples.

    According to Dr. Crawford, blood testing recommendations include that a sample be submitted during the first week of illness (acute sample) followed by another sample 2 – 3 weeks later (convalescent sample). Diagnosis is based on a four-fold increase in antibody titers from acute to convalescent phase. They need 1/2 ml of serum for this test. For more information about sample submission, talk to your veterinarian (also, they can go to http://www.diaglab.vet.cornell.edu/news.asp). With the sample, the lab is also requesting additional information to help them characterize the disease and locations. Antibodies are generally not detectable during the first week of clinical signs but are detectable after the first week and for up to 2 years after infection. If an acute sample is not available, exposure can be confirmed by the presence of antibodies in a convalescent sample.

    Treatment

    Therapy is controversial because in the early stages, it is difficult to determine if this virus is the new virus or kennel cough virus. Most infected dogs will recover with no treatment. A small percentage of dogs will develop severe and possibly fatal pneumonia. It has been recommended that all dogs with a fever and cough should have appropriate blood tests submitted and treated aggressively to minimize fatalities. Treatment may include the following:

  • Antibiotics are used in some patients, especially if a secondary bacterial infection is likely.

  • Intravenous fluid therapy has been used and associated with improvement and less fatalities in affected pets.

  • Antiviral drugs such as amantidine and tamiflu may be effective, however, their usefulness in this syndrome may be limited as they are most effective if given before infection or exposure or in the very early stages of infection.

  • Cough suppressants may be appropriate for some pets. Your veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of this treatment. Injections or pills (butorphanol) are often used, but occasionally, a stronger medicine is needed (codeine-related) to break the cough cycle. Don't use over-the-counter human medicine without first speaking to your veterinarian.

  • Dogs should be kept in isolation if treated in the hospital and very good disinfection measures need to be used.

    For more information on Home Care and Prevention go to:Canine Influenza Virus (Dog Flu).

  • Home Care

    If your dog is infected, to prevent the spread of the virus, keep your dog away from other dogs for at least one week. In addition, do the following:

  • Limit exercise and enforce periods of rest; don't exercise or play with your dog. Activity often initiates periods of loud, uncomfortable coughing.

  • Encourage adequate fluid intake to maintain hydration. Provide soft food if dry food irritates the throat.

  • If your dog normally wears a restraint collar, remove it or replace it with a harness to decrease airway irritation.

  • Avoid environmental stresses including house dust, vapors, chemical fumes and tobacco smoke.

  • To mobilize secretions and reduce coughing, provide humidified air (e.g. a vaporizer in the dog's room or in a steamy bathroom for one or two hours).

    Preventative Care

    There is currently a vaccination available for canine influenza. The benefits of this vaccine are similar to the benefits of other "flu" vaccines – including human vaccines.

    The vaccine is intended to help control virus infection and spread. The vaccine may not totally prevent infection in all dogs. What it will do is reduce the severity of disease, reduce the duration of clinical illness, and reduce lung damage. The vaccine has also been shown to reduce the amounts of virus shed and the duration of virus shedding.

    Vaccinated dogs develop less severe illness and are less likely to spread the virus to other dogs.

    The vaccine is recommended for dogs "at risk". Dogs that frequently interact with other dogs, participate in activities with other dogs or are boarded are considered at risk and can benefit from vaccination.

    Dogs that benefit from the kennel cough vaccine (Bordetella/parainfluenza) vaccine will also benefit from the canine influenza vaccine.

    To prevent infection, minimize exposure to other pets, especially in high-density situations such as kennels, doggie parks, or puppy class. May sure your pet is kept away from any symptomatic coughing dog. Take special care if your dog is a puppy or older as they are at higher risk for difficult infections.

    The virus is spread in the air by infected dogs, through contamination of objects in the environment and by people that may interact with infected and uninfected dogs.

    The virus is killed by routine disinfectants such as quaternary ammoniums or a 10% bleach solution. Thorough cleaning of crates, cages, bowls, bedding, floors and other surfaces is recommended to prevent transmission to other dogs. Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease to prevent transmission of infection to susceptible dogs. People interacting with infected dogs are advised to wash their hands well before and after interacting with infected dogs. Clothing can be effectively cleaned by using a typical laundry detergent at normal washing temperatures.

    Because the virus is spread in the air, avoid being around dogs that are coughing is the best prevention at this time.

    If your pet begins coughing, call your veterinarian immediately to discuss recommendations for care.

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