All 70 to 80 dogs at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter will be euthanized because of an outbreak of canine influenza that has closed the shelter for more than two weeks, shelter officials announced.
Shelter officials said there was no way to test for the virus quickly and thus no way to tell which dogs were infected. Shelter director Alan Cohen said that unless all the dogs were killed, he couldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t re-infect themselves and other animals.
“If I do not euthanize these animals, how can I let them loose knowing they might spread it to the community? If we don’t stop these 70, they may serve as vectors to spread it to the entire community,” he said.
The virus has also been turning up in dogs around town. As of Monday, Frontier Animal Clinic had confirmed three cases, including one dog that died rapidly, according to clinic veterinarian Gary Norwood.
Norwood urged dog owners to remain calm and take precautions. He said that while the virus has a fatality rate of 3 to 10 percent, most dogs recover or never even show symptoms.
“For 95 percent of cases, the dog’s going to recover just fine,” he said. “People need to not panic. Respect that this virus has entered our community. Use logic. Use hygiene. This virus is susceptible to normal hygiene procedures.”
As mentioned here, this influenza is a fairly new arrival into the dog population. It’s a serotype H3N8 virus that jumped from horses to dogs, and has mainly affected dogs housed in groups–at racetracks, kennels, shelters, etc., where it can spread through the population quickly.
Can we make any extrapolations from “equine flu” –> “dog flu” with “bird flu” –> “human flu?” Some, I think. It shows how quickly an influenza virus can be established in a new population (especially a crowded population), and the sometimes-drastic measures that need to be taken to prevent further spread. Obviously, we can’t euthanize humans to contain an influenza outbreak, but Norwood’s advice is good whether such an outbreak occurs in dogs, birds, or humans. However, as they note, tough choices may need to be made. It must be horrible for the people working there to be forced to put down all those dogs, but during an epidemic situation, difficult decisions can become commonplace, and people may protest and not understand. (Take a look at all the comments to the article, for example). Immunizations aren’t available for canine influenza, and there’s not a rapid test for the virus that makes it easy for veterinarians to diagnose. These are also potential issues for any novel human influenza virus, whether it’s H5N1 or another viral serotype.