An infectious strain of canine influenza virus that caused a major outbreak in Asia and some parts of the United States has now reached Canadian territory.
On Monday, two dogs in Ontario were confirmed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to be infected with H3N2. Two other dogs exhibited similar symptoms but their test results are not yet available.
All four dogs originated from South Korea, although they were imported through the United States. They were already manifesting signs of respiratory distress the day after they arrived in Canada.
Unfortunately, the infected dogs were able to come in contact with a few canines before being put under quarantine. The disease has yet to spread in Canada but alarmed pet owners have raised their concerns over a potential human infection.
H3N2 Could Evolve Into New Influenza Virus Affecting Humans
Officials assure that H3N2 alone has no known human risks. However, it is entirely possible for the virus to mutate into a new strain that could infect humans. This will only occur if an affected canine is exposed to a human influenza virus, and the two strains combine.
"It's pretty unlikely to happen, but that's the main public health concern," says Scott Weese, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College.
Weese's claim is echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which warns that a combined strain will easily create an outbreak as humans have little immunity against new influenza viruses.
Because of this threat, the CDC and its partners are closely monitoring the canine influenza H3N8 and H3N2 viruses in the United States.
AVMA Recommends Veterinary Support For Dogs With Symptoms Of H3N2
The H3N2 virus is spread through respiratory secretions produced through coughing, barking, salivating, or sneezing. It can also be transmitted indirectly through objects such as food and water bowls, collars, and leashes, or through humans who came in contact with infected canines.
This strain can remain viable for up to 48 hours on surfaces, 24 hours on clothing, and 12 hours on human hands. To reduce the risk transmission, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends implementation of disinfection protocols such as frequent hand washing. Infected pets must also be kept in isolation for at least four weeks.
Pet owners who suspect their pets to be infected are advised to seek immediate veterinary assistance as only an expert can determine the appropriate course of treatment. Most canines recover within two to three weeks when medication is supplemented by good husbandry and proper nutrition.
Expert Says Symptoms Of Canine Influenza Are Hard To Diagnose
Dog flu cannot be diagnosed only through its symptoms as they are similar to common respiratory infections. To confirm whether a pet is infected with H3N2 or not, blood testing is required.
"It's a flu-like illness. It gives them fever, they feel pretty run down, they get a cough which is often the most remarkable sign. In most dogs that's it. It runs its course," says Weese.
Delaying treatment could lead to permanent respiratory damage. A dog owner in St. Louis, Missouri reports procrastinating veterinary support because she thought her pets only had a kennel cough.
After examination, they were diagnosed with canine influenza and underwent weeks of treatment. Her dogs recovered but one retained irreversible throat damage, while another contracted a permanent respiratory disease.