Have you heard about the new canine influenza outbreak in Florida? Most likely, yes, you have. This recent outbreak has been all over social media, and has even captured the interest of the national news. But what is really happening, and how worried should you be about your furry family members?
We are all very familiar with the flu in general. It is something all of us have suffered, and many of us get ourselves vaccinated against yearly in the hope of avoiding future suffering in the upcoming “flu season”. We also know that the human flu vaccine is different every year based on what occurred during the most recent season, and what epidemiologists (the people that study disease patterns) deem to be most likely to occur next season.
We have been fortunate that influenza in dogs has not been as variable. Flu viruses are categorized based on major proteins on their outer surface – H (hemagglutinin) and N (neuraminidase). The virus we have been fighting since 2004 began in Florida at racing tracks, and has been determined to be a mutation from a horse influenza that infected greyhounds. This was the H3N8 virus. For many years this was the only flu we had to worry about. Then, in 2015, a new flu hit Chicago. This version was extremely contagious. It was determined to be H3N2, of avian Asiatic origin. When some people hear this, they immediately worry that it is “bird flu” that they might catch. While it is derived from a “bird flu”, there is no indication that it infects humans.
This specific virus is VERY contagious, nearly all dogs exposed become infected. 80% of those infected, become symptomatic. The symptoms include cough, fever, sneezing, nasal and eye discharge. If this sounds like another common respiratory illness in dogs, you are correct! The symptoms mimic kennel cough (canine infectious tracheobronchitis, bordatella). Because of this, many flu cases might be mistaken for bacterial kennel cough, and be treated with antibiotics. While the diagnosis might be incorrect, the treatment is not. Although viral infections cannot be cured by antibiotics, this flu has a very high likelihood of allowing secondary bacterial infections to occur. Therefore, antibiotic treatment is often advised (per AVMA, link below).
What is the biggest difference between H3N8 and H3N2? H3N2 INFECTS CATS! There was an outbreak in cats in a shelter in Indiana (Dr. Obvious here, not far from Chicago) in 2016. This strain was isolated. Another difference is that this strain is infectious for much longer. It is recommended that if your pet has the flu, you keep him/her away from other dogs and cats for 1 month.
So, what does all of this mean to you and your pets? First, and foremost – don’t panic! The good news is that while most infected pets become sick, there have not been any fatalities reported. Treatment is primarily symptomatic, and pneumonia is possible if left untreated.
The next best good news, is that we have a vaccine against the new strain! Once administered, it needs to be boostered in 3 weeks. After that it becomes a yearly vaccine. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for cats. The best protection you can give your kitties, is protecting their canine housemates.
If your pet has respiratory symptoms (cough, sneeze, etc), please call ahead and let us know. We might request you wait in your vehicle with your pet until we can see him/her. Please don’t be offended, we want to protect your pet as well as all others who come to us for help.
As always, we at Young’s Animal Hospital strive to prevent as much illness as possible. In that vein, we are happy to announce that we are now vaccinating against the H3N2 flu. Again, this is a 2 injection series, the second injection needs to occur 3-6 weeks after the initial inoculation. Please call for details or to make an appointment.
For more information, see information from UF https://vetmed-hospitals.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2017/05/FAQ-K9-Influenza.pdf or the AVMA https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/Pages/Canine-Influenza-Backgrounder.aspx
For questions or to schedule an appointment, call us at Young’s at 321 367 3841 or click https://youngsanimalhospital.com/appointments/
Angela Bockelman, PhD, DVM