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Dogs, Other Companion Animals Are Potential Carriers Of Killer Flu Virus: Study

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Dogs and other companion animals such as ferrets could be carriers of several types of deadly flu viruses, a new study in Korea revealed.

People and animals are typically capable of carrying viruses, bacteria, and fungi, but a scientist from Korea University has called for stricter monitoring of dogs and other companion animals because they could be carriers of human influenza strains.

"Until now, dogs were considered neglected hosts in the field of flu research," said Dr. Daesub Song, an associate professor at Korea University. Song explained that after the first report of interspecies transmission, dogs should be monitored for surveillance.

Dogs And Ferrets Are Carriers Of Influenza Strains

In a study that spanned 10 years, Song found that several cases of viruses that crossed the host barrier, which was an animal, were recorded.

Most particularly, the H3N2 bird flu crossed over from dogs and developed into the Canine Influenza virus (CIV). Such a case was found in a dog seven years ago.

In his research, Song said the H3N2 CIV could combine with H1N1/2009 to form a new virus called CIVmv. The H1N1/2009 virus is known for causing the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic.

The emergence of a new virus is concerning, said Song. Since this is a new virus, those who come into first contact with it will not be immune, and if the virus spreads from dogs to humans, it could potentially spread quickly to the population.

In the study, Song and his colleagues tested the CIVmv strain in ferrets and found that since ferrets and humans have similar flu receptors, the virus can spread quickly.

Because of this, ferrets are considered to be the most reliable model for predicting and evaluating the risk of human influenza viruses. Song said the virus spread between ferrets more quickly compared to other influenza viruses.

Song found that dogs and ferrets that were infected by CIVmv strains displayed typical symptoms of respiratory disease, such as breathing difficulties, congestion, runny eyes, coughing, lethargy, sneezing, and appetite loss.

Is It A 'Deadly' Virus?

Some experts say that dogs can transfer the flu to humans simply by sneezing, although some believe that the virus is not deadly.

Animal influenza expert Dr. Janet Daly from University of Nottingham said the odds are slim that dogs will transfer a canine virus to humans, but it is still a possibility.

"We do need to keep an eye out for occasions when both a dog and their owner have flu-like symptoms," said Daly.

The CIVmv virus not only affects dogs and ferrets, but it also affects cats, the study revealed. Song investigated an outbreak that happened in an animal shelter, where 100 percent of cats were infected and 40 percent of them died.

The development of the virus in cats is also worrisome because this means that CIV can spread to different animal species. This is the reason why researchers are raising concerns for the virus, as it can spread to companion animals, which are very close to humans. The potential risk for a new strain to develop is high, the researchers said.

Will There Be A Vaccine?

Song and his colleagues are trying to develop a vaccine against the CIVmv strain, but due to the high level of mutations, such vaccines are still very hard to develop.

Martin Astley | Flickr

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