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Dog flu returns to Silicon Valley

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Adobe Animal Hospital Registered Vet Technician Cindy Biby, right, administers the canine influenza virus (CIV) vaccine to Max, an 11-year-old springer spaniel owned by Paul Eccles, left, a hospital administrator.

Dog flu, which has rattled East Bay communities in recent weeks, has reached the Peninsula, prompting local vet clinics and shelters to double down on safety protocols and to encourage vaccinations meant to stop the further spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease.

“Up until maybe a month or so ago, we hadn’t seen any here on the west side of the bay, on the Peninsula, but now there’s been a couple cases here in the area – at least a couple cases that we know about,” said Dr. Thomas Hansen, a veterinarian at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos.

In the past few weeks, Adobe has treated at least one patient diagnosed with the canine influenza virus (CIV), and another case was reported in San Francisco, Hansen said.

The East Bay dog flu outbreak was identified during the last week of June, said Allison Lindquist, president and CEO of the East Bay SPCA. It originated with Oakland Animal Services and spread to the SPCA and the Oregon Humane Society in Portland through dogs transferred among the organizations. Approximately 140 local dogs – the entire population of Animal Services and a handful of SPCA dogs – were exposed and have since been isolated in an 80,000-square-foot Oakland warehouse, where they will remain until they are medically cleared and ready for adoption.

Historically, CIV’s 2015 origin in the United States has been traced to dogs rescued from the Southeast Asian dog meat market, but how it traveled to the Bay Area this season is unknown, Lindquist said.

“We may never know the answer,” she said. “We’re just thankful that wherever it came from in the community to the shelter, it did not spread to the broader community.”

H3N2, which originated from birds, and H3N8, which originated from horses, are the two CIV strains local officials are concerned about. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are spread through respiratory secretions expelled from coughing or sneezing or from contact with contaminated objects such as toys, bowls and leashes and from human hands. Symptoms may include cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite, but they don’t manifest in every patient.

And that’s what makes CIV so dangerous, Hansen said.

“You could have a dog that’s completely asymptomatic go into a group of dogs, and then a few days later start showing signs and then find out, retroactively, it was shedding (the virus) and exposing those other dogs,” he said.

Most infected dogs recover within weeks, but others can develop pneumonia, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Fewer than 10 percent die from the disease. Puppies, pregnant dogs, elderly dogs and dogs with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible.

Mitigating symptoms

There is, however, a bivalent vaccine that covers both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains. An initial injection is administered followed by a booster shot a few weeks later and then revaccination with a single dose every year thereafter. At Adobe, each injection costs $55.

“We do recommend it, but it doesn’t 100% prevent the possibility that the pet could come down with (CIV),” Hansen said. “The hope is that the symptoms would be milder – if that happens.”

When the Bay Area experienced its first outbreak of dog flu last year, it took local animal rescue groups and clinics by surprise, said Al Mollica, executive director of Pets In Need, the contract provider of animal services for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Many organizations developed special protocols for cleaning and for intakes, and administration of the previously uncommon vaccine became a recommended measure for local dogs – especially ones that socialize with other canines at boarding and grooming facilities and out in public, including at dog parks.

Now every dog adopted through Pets In Need gets a CIV vaccination first, a standard the organization has ensured partly through the donation of vaccines to the shelters and rescue groups it sources its canines from. Mollica anticipates Pets In Need will spend between $4,000 and $6,000 this season on vaccinations dispatched to shelters in Hollister, Madera and Selma and to a rescue group in Fresno.

“We’re really happy to be proactive with this stuff,” he said. “We feel like we’re doing our part to keep the community safe but also to help our shelter partners do their part as well.”

For more information on dog flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at cdc.gov/flu/other/canine-flu or the American Veterinary Medical Association website at avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/CanineInfluenza.aspx.

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