Should we panic over the dog flu?

Nope.

Wait, I guess I should write more than that.

First, some perspective. Every year, between 5,000 and 25,000 people in this country die of influenza and/or related complications. This did not make the news.
Recently 1,000 or more dogs in Chicago come down with influenza, 5 dogs died, and it’s making national headlines. To boot, the five dogs that died all had other serious health problems.

The currently available vaccine protects against the H3N8 strain, or the “original” dog flu that emerged in certain areas over 5 years ago. The flu making the news in Chicago is a new and different strain called H3N2. The vaccine (against H3N8) might offer some protection against the Chicago H3N2 strain. No one knows for certain how much protection it offers, but many Chicago area veterinarians I’ve talked to don’t have a lot of faith, and aren’t really using it unless dogs have plans to be boarded. Even then, it’s a “better than nothing” feeling. These veterinarians are recommending simply avoiding places where dogs congregate until everything dies down.

It’s very similar to our human flu vaccines! Each year the experts try to predict which strain will be most common. Some years they nail it, and the flu vaccine is very effective. Other years they miss, and the flu vaccine doesn’t help much. And to clarify, there is no evidence at all that a person can get the dog flu. It is primarily limited to dogs, although they now suspect a few cats may have been sick, though these cases were not confirmed.

The dog flu is not yet in many areas. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see it here in St. Louis. Let’s keep some perspective please. It’s the flu, not the plague!! I’m sure the vaccine manufacturers are working feverishly to produce a H3N2 vaccine, since it will be a big money maker. In fact, the price of the H3N8 vaccine more than doubled in the last couple weeks! And, for the record, the events in Chicago by no means meet the statistical criteria to earn the title of “epidemic.” We can thank the media for mis-using that word.

dachshund playing

Dogs who are social and interact with other dogs are most likely to be at risk.

While the dog flu has not yet been documented in the St. Louis area, I’m sure it will be at some point! Right now, would I still take my healthy dog to doggy day care if it makes his day and wears him out? Sure! Would I take him to a doggy day care in Chicago? No way!!

If you are super concerned, or if your dog is geriatric and/or has other major health issues, don’t take your dog to places where there are multiple dogs mingling! Boarding or doggy day care might not be the best for that dog. Influenza does not just materialize out of thin air. If you limit your dog’s exposure, it makes it darn near impossible to get the virus. Depending on what happens in our area, and if/when the H3N2 vaccine comes out, dogs who frequent dog parks, kennels, etc, should probably be vaccinated at that point. But as we know, a LOT can change before then!!


Posted in General health, Myths & Hot Topics, Vaccines.

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