One envelope marked the beginning of Franklin County’s battle with a new virus that threatens area dogs.
Dr. Denis King, a veterinarian at the Frankfort Animal Clinic, had read articles about a new strand of canine influenza in Kentucky but it wasn’t until that envelope arrived at his office containing a positive diagnosis of the H2N3 virus that he could confirm the virus had made its way to the state capital.
“It was some dogs that had been boarding here, [they] started coughing and were running fevers,” King said. “So I went ahead and took a sample and sent it out. I believe we got our positive last Thursday.”
With 20 to 30 other dogs boarding at the clinic exhibiting similar symptoms — which include reduced appetite, high fever, cough, runny nose and lethargy — King said that it was safe to assume that they also contracted the disease. No other cases have been reported, per King.
H2N3 is relatively new in the United States, having originated in South Korea in 2006 but only finding its way to the US in 2015. It is most often spread through dog shows or other events and places where dogs congregate en masse according to Dr. Cynda Crawford, a professor and leading infectious disease researcher at the University of Florida.
Because of that prevailing knowledge, the recent outbreak has forced the Frankfort Animal Clinic and other area establishments that deal with large numbers of dogs to make their operations more conservative.
Jeff Poe, co-owner of Pet Domain and Suites, said he required all animals staying at the pet hotel to be vaccinated against the new flu. At the Franklin County Humane Society, a similar approach was taken according to technician Kerry Lowary. The humane society provided all its dogs with the new vaccine and implemented new protocol for visiting
“Normally we encourage people to bring their dog out here to meet a potential new dog, but we have suspended that policy and we’re working with people on a case-by-case basis without exposing our kennel,” Lowary said.
The animal hospital had to go a step further: temporarily suspending incomers to its kennel.
“We quit taking boarders, groom dogs, and then we quit taking dogs that would be dropped off,” King said. “Then dogs that had boarded that were coughing whenever they come in, we see them out in the parking lot instead of in the clinic.”
According to both King and Crawford, dogs that have contracted the virus can be contagious for up to 4 weeks even if they are no longer showing symptoms. Crawford noted that dog owners should be aware of crucial differences between H3N2 and the other strand of dog flu, H3N8, with which Americans are more familiar.
The most pertinent, she noted, is that H3N2 puts dogs at a much higher risk for pneumonia, which could prove fatal. And she added that the virus has been known to affect cats as well as dogs.
While Crawford advocated for a temporary pause in dog exposure to boarding areas to stem the virus’ advance, she emphasized that vaccination was the most important step a dog owner can take. That’s advice King will take as soon as possible.
“In the future we are going to require dogs that board here or get groomed here to have this vaccine,” King said. “We’re not going to get in this situation again if we can keep from it.”