Dog Flu is in Texas, Is it Time to Panic?

This is the sort of behavior that could spread the flu.
This is the sort of behavior that could spread the flu.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Chicago area H3N2 Canine flu outbreak. According the the message boards on the Veterinary Information, new cases out there seem to be slowing down.  However, like a game of biological agent Wack-a-Mole, the virus starts to fade from Chicago, only to pop up near Houston.

Texas seems to be a great place for the appearance of scary outbreaks, as evidenced by our Ebola experience, a few months back, and even Bluebell Ice Cream’s Listeria debacle.

Frankly, what is it about Texas and media-worthy diseases?

Here are the facts as I know them:

A dog in Beach City, Texas (south east of Houston, east of Baytown) tested positive for H3N2 strain of influenza on May 8, 2015. The owners moved to Beach City from the Chicago area on April 28, 2015.

Clinical signs of influenza in dogs include:

  • high fever
  • decreased appetite
  • cough
  • nasal discharge
  • lethargy

The incubation period is 2-4 days. Clinical signs last about 4-7 days.

Cats can be infected, but so far there have been no feline cases.

Treatment is generally supportive: antibiotics, fluids, etc. Usually this disease manifests as a mild to moderate upper respiratory infection. However, in some cases, particularly the very young and very elderly (just like in humans), the symptoms can be severe, leading to pneumonia and death.

The Canine Influenza vaccine that we currently have access to DOES NOT cross protect from the H3N2 Asian strain of flu found in Chicago and now Beach City. (This is contrary to what the Houston News is reporting.The Dallas news station got it right, though) The current vaccine protects against the H3N8, or United States Influenza strain, and cross protection has not been established. This doesn’t surprise me given the issues we have with the different human strains of flu and human vaccines. Interestingly, in an interview with NPR, Dr. Edward Dubovi, virologist at Cornell University supposed that the H3N8 Strain may have come over from Asia via rescue of dogs from the meat industry.

The disease spreads through direct contact with respiratory secretions (cough, sneeze) or infected surfaces (kennel surfaces, water bowls, collars, leashes, etc.). The virus can live in the environment for 48 hours, on clothes for 24 hours, and on the hands for 12 hours. The virus is easily killed by regular disinfectants: Lysol, bleach, etc.

For more information: The AVMA has a great web page on Canine Influenza.

So what do I make of all this? So far it’s just one little ol’ case, in one little ol’ town near one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the United States. Well, I think we are going to have to wait and see. The virus is really contagious, and brand new so dogs, having no inherent immunity to it, will be very susceptible. Say that dog in Beach City sat in the full lobby of the vet clinic, coughing his lungs out. There is a good chance any dogs in that lobby will catch it. Some of those dogs will go to the dog park when they are early in the infection process and spreading the most virus particles, their owners just assume it’s allergies or something. The dog coughs and spreads the virus to all the dog park dogs, who then go home and spread it to the neighbors dogs they love to play with in the yard, who go to their vets and infect those dogs in that lobby and so on and so on.

I’m worried this will get worse before it gets better, but just like in a human flu outbreak, we have to be smart and be careful. Should this thing really start to spread, it might be prudent to avoid areas where dogs concentrate: dog parks in particular. Kennels, grooming facilities, shelters are also areas we have to be very careful with and possibly avoid. What cleaning precautions are they using? Are they isolating/sending home any coughing dogs immediately? Summer boarding season is almost here. The Chicago outbreak really got going over Easter weekend, lots of dogs in boarding kennels.

We veterinarians need to be vigilant now. Travel history of patients is important. If any vets read this blog: Idexx and Antech both do strain specific flu testing (Idexx added it to their Canine Comprehensive Respiratory PCR panel, Antech sends out to Cornell). We’ve got to be a lot more careful with patient isolation. Chicago area veterinary clinics took measures including: examining all respiratory cases in the owners car,  or seeing respiratory cases at the end of the day to minimize exposure to other patients. The sick dogs are treated as outpatients whenever possible, often referring the really sick ones to emergency/critical care facilities with good isolation wards.

So, bottom line: This isn’t armageddon or the zombie apocalypse. It’s the flu. Not pandemic dystopian future flu. It’s a new flu, yes. It’s a little scary, and it could get ugly, but with some preparation, knowledge, and common sense, I think we can handle it.

Is it flu or just kennel cough? My vet can figure this out.
Is it flu or just kennel cough? My vet can figure this out.

6 thoughts on “Dog Flu is in Texas, Is it Time to Panic?

  1. “seeing respiratory cases at the end of the day to minimize exposure to other patients.”

    Excellent idea!

  2. Vivian, thank you for the update! Robert and I are staying on top of this story with your expert advice and updates.
    Much appreciated,
    Holly and Robert

  3. Is it be such that a vaccine could be developed to protect against it or does that take a long time? Is it prudent to vaccinate with what is available now even though it doesn’t protect against this strain? Thanks I have had questions and this is really informative.

    1. Unfortunately, in veterinary medicine, it takes up to 18 months to come up with a new vaccine. According to Dr. Alice Wolf on the Veterinary Information Network, it’s because in vet cases, the FDA makes them prove the duration of immunity of the vaccine. I find this mind boggling because, you’d think they’d have to test that in the human side too. Nobody knows for sure if there is any cross protection, so there is no official recommendation to vaccinate. Human flu vaccine is always a bit of a crap shot regarding which strain is going around, as evidenced this year, where it was less than 50% effective. We have to weigh the risk of side effects of the vaccine with the risk of illness from the virus. Furthermore, the vaccine will take time to be effective (for what little that’s worth against the wrong strain), initial vaccination, then booster, so at least three weeks or more till it is considered protective (and it will not prevent infection, just make the disease milder). So bottom line, I don’t feel a strong compulsion, personally, to start vaccination. However, I will sit down with Dr. Brewer and Dr. Sharp and we will figure out what to recommend based on the information we have at hand. I’ll keep you posted.

      1. Thanks very much. I wondered if that might not be the case. I have kept mine out of the dog park. He loves it, but I don’t want to risk it. Thanks for all of the great information.

  4. Thank you for this common-sense response!! The main thing I find troubling is how very hard the media seems to be trying to whip up a panic. But then, that is what they do, isn’t it?

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