Dog flu is a real thing, and the illness is spreading in the Midwest. Over 1100 dogs are known to have been infected by the recent outbreak, and the AP reports that six have died in the Chicago area.

But what's dog flu, you ask?

First of all, dog flu isn't the same as human flu -- you can't catch it. Some diseases can jump from non-human animals to humans and back again (zoonotic diseases like these became human HIV and Ebola). In fact, researchers believe the H3N2 dog flu strain affecting Midwestern dogs hopped species itself, having originated in bird markets in Asia. Another strain of dog flu came originally from horses.

But the only infections you can catch from snuggling your dog are bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections (like ringworm or scabies, for example) or things like rabies transmitted by bite. There haven't been any human cases of H3N2, and it shouldn't be possible for humans to catch it.

That doesn't mean the canine flu is nothing to worry about: Since most dogs are never exposed to canine influenza almost every pup who encounters the virus will catch it. Mortality rates are very low, but the illness -- which usually presents itself as tiredness, coughing, and a runny nose -- can lead to pneumonia and other serious respiratory problems. And even though humans aren't at risk, it's not clear yet how easy it is for other household pets to pick up the virus.

The Midwest outbreak probably occurred because the virus entered the unprotected population right before spring break, when many had their dogs kenneled while they went on vacation. Dog gatherings are a big no-no during a canine flu outbreak, so those in areas with reported cases are urged to keep their pets at home.

If your dog seems to have the flu, don't panic: The virus is usually fairly harmless. Keep them away from other pets, and get them to the vet. There's no treatment for the flu itself, but it's important to monitor dogs for signs of secondary infections (like pneumonia) that can be staved off with antibiotics.

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