Dog days of summer: Canine flu cases down, but remain a concern

Graphic by Grace Hase/Town Crier
According to Dr. Cristie Kamiya of Humane Society Silicon Valley, there have been 486 confirmed canine flu cases in California, with 212 of them occurring in Northern California, as shown in the graphic above.

Nearly five months have passed since canine influenza virus (CIV) arrived in Santa Clara County and commenced a steady march through Silicon Valley, spreading north up the Peninsula and south toward Monterey County.

The highly contagious nature of the respiratory disease has influenced how animal care businesses operate; some local boarding and day care facilities no longer accept dogs that haven’t been vaccinated.

With summer approaching and vacationers increasingly traveling with their pets or relying on pet care services, the Town Crier checked in with Dr. Cristie Kamiya, Humane Society Silicon Valley veterinarian and chief of shelter medicine, to learn the latest.

Q: By your estimation, how many canine influenza virus cases are on record? How might this number compare to the actual number of cases?

A: We know of 486 confirmed positive cases in California, with 212 of them occurring in Northern California. These are confirmed cases from the lab doing the testing, and (the tally) does not reflect the dogs that never got tested due to cost, etc. We’re estimating that for every positive tested dog, there’s probably five to 10 untested that are also positive.

Q: Have you traced the local outbreak to a specific source or area?

A: The initial case did occur in Santa Clara County and was a rescue dog that had been imported from Korea, where CIV is much more prevalent. When people travel with their pets over the holidays, either into our area or out to other areas where they play with other pets and animals, they can either bring into or bring back illnesses such as CIV. It’s not unlike us catching a cold when we travel. The best way to lessen the potential for issues is to keep your pets up to date on all their annual vaccinations and leave your pets at home if they are sick.

Q: Is the local strain H3N2, as suspected? Have you seen evidence of transmission to cats or other animals?

A: Yes, the strain that has affected our areas was confirmed to be the H3N2 strain. We have not seen evidence of it being transmitted to cats, nor any other animals. There have been a few reports in the past of H3N2 being transmitted to cats, but there have not been any documented cases of H3N2 in cats in the Bay Area during this outbreak.

Q: Are pet owners taking this seriously by vaccinating their pets against the virus?

A: We believe pet owners are taking this seriously for their own pet’s health and the health of others around them. We were pleased to see so many people come to us for the (two-shot) vaccination series – over 2,000. And we are still able to provide the vaccines at low cost on a walk-in basis at our medical center in Milpitas. Everyone should remember that they need to get the vaccine every year.

Q: What has the veterinary community learned about the virus?

A: Pretty much every dog was at risk in our community because we hadn’t seen CIV before in our area – there was no immunity. So every dog exposed to it would be affected. Our dogs in the area have active social lives, at boarding facilities, doggie day care centers, pet stores, groomers and dog parks. That enables the rate and spread of the transmission of CIV to grow more rapidly.

Communication, education, coordination and transparency among rescues, pet-related service providers and private vets early on, making information and the vaccine available to the public immediately and support from experts at universities were key to being able to manage the outbreak as well as possible.

And we thank dog owners for being on the ball and getting their dogs vaccinated. It takes all of us working together to deal with outbreaks.

Q: How has your organization altered its approach to CIV?

A: At Humane Society Silicon Valley, we have adjusted what we do as the virus has quieted down in our area. That has included changing some CIV vaccine requirements to recommendations, while still requiring it in other cases. We believe making these changes works for people and animals visiting our shelter while also maintaining a high standard of care and protection for the animals in our care. Like us, each organization and business decides what the right steps are for them.

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