There has been a lot of buzz recently about Canine Influenza Virus. Bear in mind that the media needs something to talk about constantly, so even relatively minor issues can be blown out of proportion to get your attention. With that in mind, here are some facts about this emerging disease:
Canine Influenza is a relatively new phenomenon. Influenza viruses, like most other viruses, are fairly species specific. On occasion, one of them will mutate into a variant that can cross species lines. It is believed that canine influenza developed this way. As in human influenza, or influenza in any other species for that matter, there is a classification scheme using the letters "H" and "N", each followed by a number (eg H3N2). The original outbreak of canine influenza occurred in Florida in racing Greyhounds at the track. It was classified H3N8 and was originally a horse virus (the cause of equine strangles) that mutated. This outbreak spread to several other spots around the country a few years back. The disease manifested itself in several ways. Most dogs that got it either got terribly ill and died quickly of pnemonia, or got a mild case of coughing then got better. Some dogs were found to be asymptomatic carriers who shed the disease but showed not symptoms. They were likely the ones responsible for spreading the disease around as Greyhounds were shipped from track to track across the country. A vaccine was developed for this virus but was not universally recommended as the outbreaks of disease were scattered and became contained rather quickly.
Last year, a number of dogs in the Chicago area came down with respiratory symptoms that mimicked Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (Kennel Cough). After extensive testing, it was determined this was actually a new variant of canine influenza, the new strain being H3N2. An epidemiologic study was done that traced this new strain to a single dog imported from South Korea. The previously developed vaccine was ineffective against this new variant. New new strain of dog flu has been isolated in dogs in about 3/4 of the United States. Just like with the previous strain, there have been "hot spots" with concentrations of cases. The nearest such locus to Northeast Ohio was a smallish outbreak in Cincinnati. There have also been a few cases reported in Columbus. So far, Greater Cleveland has been spared, but who knows how long this will last. There now is a vaccine available for the H3N2 variant as well as the older H3N8 variant. To date, I have not been recommending vaccination of my patients against this disease, especially since the new strain seems to be less pathogenic than the old one. Most dogs who contract the disease get a dry hacking cough that may last for several days to several weeks. Since it is a virus, there is no direct cure. Antiviral medications have proved to be ineffective against it. Antibiotics are usually not indicated, but are sometimes used depending on the circumstances.
If you suspect your dog may have contracted this disease, or if you wish to talk to us about it further, please feel free to contact the office. We look forward to speaking with you.