So I’m taking a break from my holiday preparatory madness to provide for you, a quick and dirty assessment of the situation regarding the flu outbreak in Austin. I saw the story, the pretty reporter lady with her eyes wide, projecting fear and concern, urging pet parents to contact their vets right away, for this flu is deadly! The tone of the story was: super-alarmist media fear mongering, with a heavy emphasis on the vaccine.There is even an article in the New York Times about vaccinating your dog for the flu. It’s a regular media frenzy! Our pets are in grave danger!
Here’s the thing that’s driving me crazy, two veterinary pharmaceutical companies JUST released their brand-new H3N2 vaccines LAST MONTH. I have a sneaky suspicion that these companies are issuing press releases regarding active cases and creating all this hysteria TO SELL MORE VACCINES. I’m getting frequent, gleeful emails from one of the pharma companies’ reps with sensational updates on the “outbreak in Austin”, including links to the news coverage. I swear she seems pretty excited about it all, I can imagine the dollar signs in her eyes.
I’m sure the vaccine is fine, and we will have it by Monday, and we recommend that you vaccinate dogs who are at risk (dogs who board frequently, go to the groomers, travel to areas with active cases, show dogs etc.)
Bear in mind, there are two canine flu strains, H3N8 and H3N2. There are vaccines for both strains. The newer vaccine is for the H3N2, Asian strain that is currently being seen in Austin. We have the H3N8 vaccine in stock but don’t use much of it because there have been no cases in our area in years.
We have a protocol in place should an actual outbreak occur to minimize the risk of it spreading within the hospital. We will step up and adjust our vaccine recommendations according to risk factors, and number of active cases as needed: If the Austin outbreak proves to be severe and begins to spread, we would likely expand our recommendation to include all healthy patients, not just ones who board, etc.
Here is a map from Cornell University showing the areas where flu tests have been submitted as of September 2015. The grey dots are tests, the orange areas are where there have been positives for the H3N2 flu. No positives in Texas as of September (there were a few in the Houston area earlier this year). Obviously there are now cases in Austin. If you’re traveling there, maybe don’t take your dog? If you do, vaccinate it, but your dog won’t be protected for about a month.
Bear in mind, this is a brand new vaccine. We don’t know anything about side effects, or effectiveness. Word on the street is that it may not prevent your dog from coming down with the flu, but it should lessen the severity.
Regarding the Austin cases, one of my classmates saw about a dozen of the flu infected dogs from the affected kennel.The virus is definitely very contagious. She said the cases she saw looked like severe cases of kennel cough. No deaths or even hospitalizations.
So calm down, there is plenty of other stuff to stress about this time of year. I think this situation is under control. We promise to let you know if anything changes.
Here’s to a happy, safe, healthy and only minimally stress-laden holiday season. We at Animal Medical Center of Plano wish you all the best.
I will now resume my regularly scheduled holiday madness.
UPDATE#1: A colleague just sent me this link from a local news source claiming that there is a positive case in Plano. We have not been able to confirm this, so as soon as we find something out, we will let you know. Might not be a bad idea to avoid dog parks, and other high dog density areas until we get an idea what is going on.
UPDATE#2:Just spoke with the Arlington Humane Society (who made the claim that Plano has a flu case). The gentleman I spoke with said that he heard there are dogs in Plano who have been recently TESTED for influenza, but no positives yet. Apparently, he was on a conference call with other shelter vets who say that there is a big problem across the country with shelter outbreaks of the H3N8 flu and his concern is that it will spread beyond the shelters into the pet dog population, thus the big push to vaccinate. So, still no confirmed flu cases in the Dallas area yet. At least one of my Shelter Vet contacts has not heard of a big flu problem in local shelters either. This still smells a little like vaccine manufacturer manufactured hysteria to me.