In recent weeks, an outbreak of H3N2 has sickened dogs in the Midwest. Two veterinarians with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine who have first-hand knowledge of the virus share information about the virus, and also provide advice on protecting your dogs from H3N2 influenza virus.
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Colin Parrish, professor of virology and Director of the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is part of a team studying the virus and trying to pinpoint the identity of the virus strain responsible. He gives some background on what H3N2 is, how it came to the U.S. and how to protect your dog.
“So far there are no commercial vaccines available against the H3N2 canine influenza virus, although experimental vaccines have been described. Vaccines against the H3N8 influenza virus – which has existed in this country for more than a decade – are available, but there are differences in the genetic sequences of the two strains that suggest that these vaccines would be poorly effective, or ineffective in protecting dogs against the H3N2 virus infecting dogs in the Midwest.”
“The H3N2 influenza virus emerged in Asia among dogs suffering from respiratory disease in 2006 and 2007. This canine virus likely arose through the direct transfer of an avian influenza virus – possibly from among viruses circulating in live bird markets – to dogs. That virus spread widely among dogs in South Korea and in several regions of China and caused an outbreak of respiratory disease among dogs in Thailand in 2012.
“As for other species becoming infected, there have been no reports or evidence that H3N2 influenza can infect humans. We do know that H3N2 was able to infect cats under certain circumstances, and experiments with the strain circulating in Asia showed that under some circumstances cats living with H3N2-infected dogs could become infected. There’s also some evidence that guinea pigs and ferrets can become infected and shed the virus.
“The H3N2 virus appears to generally cause a mild upper respiratory tract disease. Some more severe infections have been reported, possibly because the dogs were also infected with other respiratory pathogens. In these cases, it may be necessary to treat any bacterial infection the dog may have acquired.
“The virus can be inactivated or removed by cleaning with detergents or disinfectants. As with other influenza viruses, keeping infected dogs away from susceptible animals would be beneficial. Quarantining infected dogs for 5 to 7 days may help to slow the spread of the virus.”
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Brian Collins, a companion animal veterinarian at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has experience in handling and treating dogs infected with canine influenza viruses and offers advice on protecting your dogs from H3N2.
“At this time no cats in the U.S. have been diagnosed with H3N2. For now, precautions for dogs should be followed.
“Dogs at most risk of contracting the H3N2 virus are those that have contact with other dogs, particularly those that are having symptoms of a respiratory infection. Situations that pose risk include boarding kennels, grooming salons, canine daycare, dog parks, animal shelters, and any other locations where dogs can interact. If you live in one of the outbreak zones, you should avoid these locations.
“As with other infectious diseases, extra precautions may be necessary with puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs that are immunocompromised for any reason.
“Symptoms usually consist of fever, runny nose, and persistent coughing. Most dogs are only mildy affected and some have no symptoms at all. A small number of dogs can become severely ill and develop life-threatening pneumonia. If your pet exhibits symptoms, consult with your veterinarian.”
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