Earlier this year, the H3N2 dog flu virus became an epidemic, sickening dogs in 24 states across the country. It was first confirmed in Illinois, where more than 1,500 Chicago-area dogs were infected.
Before dogs became sick in the Chicago area, H3N2 had never been reported in the United States, but there have been outbreaks in China and South Korea since 2006. H3N2 is believed to have been brought to the U.S. by a dog from Asia, or a dog who visited Asia and became infected.
The symptoms of H3N2 include coughing, sneezing, fever and lethargy. Most at risk are puppies, older dogs and dogs with weakened immune systems. While most dogs recover within 10 to 30 days, some have developed pneumonia and other serious health issues. At least six dogs have died from H3N2.
Until this week, the only vaccine available was for preventing another strain of dog flu, the H3N8 virus. It was not known if that vaccine is effective against this new strain.
On Nov. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a conditional product license for Merck Animal Health to release its new Canine Influenza Vaccine H3N2. The vaccine became available to veterinarians Monday.
“Based on the highly contagious nature of the strain, the severity of clinical disease and the rate at which we were seeing newly diagnosed cases, we knew we needed to act fast – both to help veterinarians and pet owners contain the outbreaks and develop a vaccine to protect dogs against it,” said Kathleen Heaney, DVM, director of Companion Animal Technical Services at Merck Animal Health, in a news release.
According to studies, H3N2 produces 10 times more virus than H3N8, making it “far more contagious,” said Edward Dubovi, Ph.D., of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University in the news release. “Preventing the transmission of the disease through vaccination is highly recommended for those dogs that have lifestyles that put them at greater risk.”
That riskier lifestyle includes frequent social activity with other dogs at dog parks, doggie day care facilities and boarding kennels.
Dogs who are healthy and at least 6 months old can receive the new vaccine, which is delivered in two doses several weeks apart.
The new vaccine will be a lifesaver, said Dr. Kristie Johansen, a veterinarian at Sugar Hill Animal Hospital in Atlanta.
“It will be very significant for us,” she told WSB-TV.
Dr. Melissa Bourgeois, another vet at the hospital, recommends that dogs get both the H3N2 and H3N8 vaccines, since both strains are currently spreading in Atlanta.
Here are some important tips for preventing your dog from getting the H3N2 virus.
Photo credit: bazusa