Missouri veterinarians providing vaccine for increasingly common dog influenza

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 5:38 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Veterinarians in Missouri said they have begun to offer a new vaccine against a highly contagious form of canine influenza that might have spread to the state this year.

Dogs with the H3N8 virus might develop a fever, lack energy and appetite and have a nasal discharge and cough.

Some develop a more severe form of flu. Five percent of cases are fatal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported for Wednesday's edition.

Most dogs have no natural immunity to the relatively new virus, first detected in 2004, and it can spread rapidly where they congregate.

"It's very similar to human influenza but it is not zoonotic — humans can't get it from dogs, and dogs don't get it from people," said Leah Cohn, professor of internal medicine at MU's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cohn said only dogs that are in close contact with other dogs should be considered for the vaccine.

So far, 30 states have reported confirmed cases of canine influenza, including five states that border Missouri: Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa and Kentucky.

Cohn said veterinarians in Hannibal, Springfield and other Missouri cities have reported seeing cases of the dog flu, but the reports have not been confirmed.

The new vaccine, developed by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health of Kenilworth, N.J., was federally approved in June. It was shown to reduce the spread of the virus, among other things. The vaccine producer is offering free diagnosis.

"Free testing makes this more affordable than it ordinarily would be," said Sarah Hesse, a veterinarian at the Kirkwood Animal Hospital in suburban St. Louis. "Even if you only suspect your dog is sick, it won't cost anything to find out."

The Kirkwood clinic began offering the vaccine, administered in a shot, in October. Two doses are needed, administered three weeks apart.

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