Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dog flu spreading, but needn't be deadly

Dog flu spreading, but needn't be deadly
By Roberto Santiago and Karin Dryhurst
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published July 26, 2006

MIAMI -- Veterinarians are on the lookout for a deadly dog virus making its way around the country.

Dog flu -- also known as canine influenza virus -- is a highly contagious respiratory disease that has more than tripled since last year, said Cynda Crawford, an immunologist at the College of Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Florida.

Veterinarians in Miami-Dade County, Fla., randomly sampled 100 dogs with respiratory distress from October to May.

Ten percent tested positive for canine influenza, said Sara Pizano, director of Miami Dade Animal Services. Eight dogs were put to sleep.

In Broward, Fla., several dogs were put to sleep earlier this year at the Broward County Animal Care and Regulation Division, said Tarnell Carroll, spokesperson for the county Animal Care and Regulation Division.

Palm Beach County has been hard hit in recent weeks. Recently, more than 70 infected dogs were put to sleep in one week in one animal shelter.

In September, seven states reported outbreaks of dog flu. As of this month, 22 states have reported outbreaks, said Crawford, a national expert on dog flu.

A dog afflicted with the virus has a nagging cough, weakness, runny nose and loss of appetite.

The disease does not affect humans.

Researchers believe that the virus "jumped species" from horses (infected with equine influenza) to dogs, possibly in 2004, when dog flu was first discovered.

Most of the cases occurred where dogs have been confined in close quarters, such as shelters, kennels and dog tracks.

"As with any new disease, it is going to get worse before it gets better," Crawford said.

Dogs afflicted with canine influenza can be cured if the disease is caught in time, experts said. All it takes is antibiotics and patience.

There is no vaccine, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering two vaccines to treat the disease, Crawford said.

When treated and diagnosed in time, more than 90 percent of the dogs survive, Crawford said.

At Broward County animal care, workers use bleach and water -- a mixture that kills the virus -- to thoroughly clean the shelter.

"As of today, we have been fortunate," Carroll said. "We don't have any current cases."

Some dogs have been misdiagnosed with kennel cough, a common bacterial infection, Crawford said.

Canine influenza is a more deadly viral infection.

Many dog owners have never heard of canine influenza.

James Isom, a vet at Plantation Animal Hospital, said he will tell his clients about it if they ask.

"The dog flu's around, and they may come down with it," he said.

Isom suspected an outbreak two years ago at the animal hospital, which he opened in 1972.

"We thought we had kennel cough," he said.

He treated the dogs with antibiotics to prevent pneumonia, bronchitis and other secondary conditions. He didn't lose any patients in the outbreak.

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