Canine Flu Outbreak & Vaccine

The recent announcement by officials of the LA County Public Health Department that canine influenza had been found in several dogs that were shipped to our area has caused dog owners to be concerned for their dog’s safety. And they have many reasons to be, as this is the same strain of the influenza virus that lead to infections of thousands of cases in the Midwest last year and resulted in a few, but not insignificant, number of deaths. This has prompted the recommendation by these same health officials that dogs at risk should be vaccinated against the strains of influenza virus that have been linked to last year’s, and a previous outbreak on the East Coast, to lower the chances of dogs becoming infected.

What is Canine Flu?

Influenza is a family of viruses that have a predilection for easily infecting the respiratory tract of mammals. Canine influenza follows this pattern, and has characteristics that many times mimics the common “kennel cough” infection that is seen in Southern California several times each year. Infections are usually minor to moderate in their symptoms, varying from minor inflammation that passes in days to having weeks of ill health; severe symptoms can occur, resulting in long-term pulmonary injury or death. And although those that have challenged immune systems or injured respiratory tracts would seem to be at higher risk for the worse symptoms, that is not always the case, as many of the worse flu outbreaks inflicted young, healthy adults most often. They are usually species-specific, meaning the “flu” that infects us won’t be able to infect our dogs, cats or other pets, and vice-versa. However, mutations do occur, and so a virus that mutates can suddenly start to infect a different species, and often with very severe results. This is what happened with the initial canine influenza virus, known as H3:N8, it is thought to have jumped from infecting horses to infecting dogs with initially high fatality rates a little over a decade ago. And the flu strain affecting our area now, H3N2 appears to have recently mutated from a bird flu strain that has plagued Asia. It also has caused infections in cats, although at a lot lower incidence than in dogs.

How is Canine Flu Transmitted?

Canine influenza is easily transmittable, passing through “aerosolization” (airborne particles) via barking, coughing or sneezing. It can spread from contaminated inanimate objects, or on one’s hands or clothing. An infected individual may not show any symptoms despite already shedding the virus, which makes rapid transmission to new victims easy because no one is aware that the virus is present until it is too late to take precautions. Another unfortunate characteristic is that the virus is not able to be treated directly; although usually self-limiting. The best that modern medicine has been able to do is to support the patient, treating the frequent secondary bacterial infections while waiting for the patient’s immune system to eventually rid the virus and return them to health.

Vaccination Stops the Spread of Dog Flu

At the present time, the vaccines available to treat these 2 strains of canine influenza are being recommended for “at risk” dogs, which means those dogs who are likely to have the increased exposure from having frequent exposure to other dogs: those that go to common pathways and dog parks where other dogs congregate, boarding facilities, grooming parlors, and doggie daycares. The vaccines are initially given as an injection that is booster after approximately 3 weeks, and then re-boostered every year. Given the current concerns for the present outbreak in Los Angeles, it is urged that those owners whose dogs are in the stated higher-risk category make plans to get their dogs vaccinated now.

Our Manhattan Beach Veterinarians offer H3N2 Canine Flu Vaccines

If you would like to bring your dog in for a H3N2 Canine Flu Vaccination, please call our Veterinarians at: 310-536-9654

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