1st Dog Flu Cases in Va. Close Fairfax Kennel

By Dagny Salas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fairfax County authorities on Friday publicly confirmed at least six cases of the H3N8 virus, or canine influenza, in dogs, one of them fatal -- the first identified cases in the state.

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter shut down its kennel last week, quarantining about 26 dogs with suspected symptoms, said shelter director Karen Diviney. New dogs brought to the shelter are being held in a separate area.

Humans cannot contract the virus, commonly referred to as "dog flu," but dogs can easily catch it from each other, especially in close quarters, and it can be spread to dogs from humans who have come into contact with infected animals, officials said.

Owners are being encouraged to follow the same precautions as with strains of human influenza: Wash your hands, and do not panic.

"It's a situation where we do need to alert the public. Now it's out there, and people need to look for symptoms," said Lucy Caldwell, Fairfax police spokeswoman.

Symptoms include sneezing, lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing and wheezing, said Wanda Pool, a veterinarian at Deepwood Veterinary Clinic in Centreville. If a dog is showing these symptoms, owners are urged to contact their veterinarians for testing and possible vaccination.

The incubation period is 48 hours, meaning the virus can live on hard surfaces, hair and fabric, Pool said, adding that about 20 percent of infected dogs will not show symptoms.

Pool said about 11 dogs at Deepwood, which runs a boarding kennel as well as the veterinary clinic, suddenly came down with coughs in late July, which was unusual. Nasal swabs were taken and sent out to a lab, which confirmed canine flu in some of the cases. One of the dogs, a 15-year-old whippet owned by a clinic technician, died July 27 after contracting severe pneumonia, Pool said.

"Most dogs will be fine, just like in humans," Pool said. "A small percentage can't handle it and do get pneumonia, and it can get very severe."

The virus originated from a strain of equine influenza that mutated sometime in 2004. Since then, about 30 states have reported cases of dog flu, Pool said.

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