From the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association:
“There have been many reports of an occurrence of canine flu in Missouri in the last 24 hours. Many of the news stories are re-reporting what someone else reported. We’ve been attempting to track these reports to a source and, as of now, it is still vague. We do know of a confirmed occurrence in St. Louis last summer, but reports of something “recent” have not yet been substantiated. That said, veterinarians should be prepared because canine flu has shown up in over 40 states.”
In the past few years there have been some isolated endemics of influenza that have caught the attention of both the media and the veterinary community throughout the United States. Though these outbreaks have been well localized there continues to be small occurrences popping up in new locations around the country. Unlike human influenza where epidemic outbreaks occur annually due to widespread travel, canine influenza seems to remain somewhat isolated.
Last year’s Chicago outbreak accelerated the process in identifying the flu strains that are causing the problem. Currently we have identified two strains of flu. Prior to last year’s outbreak we had only identified one strain and it was a different strain than that which occurred in Chicago. There had been just one vaccine available at the time to protect against that one previously identified strain but like human influenza, it would not cross protect against the newly emergent strain. We now have two different vaccines available for the two strains that we currently are aware of. The question becomes, which vaccine should be used to protect our current population of dogs? We are keeping an eye on the confirmed cases to see which strain is prevailing and it as of now, it seems that the H3N2 strain (the one that occurred in Chicago/Atlanta) is most likely the incriminating strain so far this year. For that reason, we have acquired this vaccine for those who wish to vaccinate their pet. Keep in mind that doses will be limited, in fact, one vaccine company is already “back-ordered” on their vaccine! This is not a disease (unlike Parvo or Distemper) that has a high mortality rate. Most influenza cases result in a fever and cough that is self-limiting. The best way to avoid the flu isn’t with vaccination, but to avoid high populations of coughing dogs.
Regarding vaccinations, the AVMA states:
“The canine influenza vaccine is a "lifestyle" vaccine, and is not recommended for every dog. In general, the vaccine is intended for the protection of dogs at risk for exposure to the canine influenza virus, which include those that either participate in activities with many other dogs or are housed in communal facilities, particularly where the virus is prevalent. Dogs that may benefit from canine influenza vaccination include those that receive the kennel cough (Bordetella/parainfluenza) vaccine, because the risk groups are similar. Dog owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine whether their dog's lifestyle includes risks for exposure to the canine influenza virus, and if vaccination is appropriate for their dog. “
Personally, I would only vaccinate my dog for influenza if I had to unavoidably travel to a “hot bed” of influenza. Keep in mind also that this vaccine requires two doses given 3 to 4 weeks apart, so planning ahead is wise to get the best protection. Also, like our human influenza situation, no vaccine is perfect and not all canine patients will be protected despite our best efforts to use a good vaccine.
For more information on canine influenza, see AVMA’s comprehensive backgrounder at this URL:
This is a link to Cornell’s testing summary maps of the Canine Influenza Virus Surveillance Network