Canine influenza continues its rather puzzling spread through the US. After emerging years ago, it has spread sporadically, causing some large regional outbreaks but sparing many areas, and it has moved about in a pattern that’s pretty unusual for a highly contagious virus.

There have been various reports of canine influenza activity in the New York and New Jersey areas over the past few months, and an outbreak has now been reported in a PetSmart doggie daycare in Farmingdale (NY) . Eight dogs have been diagnosed with canine flu (though not sure how or whether it’s a lab-confirmed diagnosis) and the PetSmart doggie daycare has been closed since November 14. It was supposed to have re-opened on the 22nd, but dogs that had been there won’t be allowed back until two week after their last visit, due to the potential that they were infected at the facility and are still infectious.

Like human influenza in people, canine flu is a viral infection that’s readily transmissible between dogs. It typically causes mild disease, with coughing as the main sign, but can cause serious (and sometime fatal) pneumonia in some cases. A vaccine is available but it’s not considered a “core” vaccine and is largely reserved for dogs in areas where the virus is active and/or in dogs whose lifestyle makes them more susceptible to exposure (e.g. contact with doggie daycare or boarding facilities, contact with many other dogs, travel to areas where the virus may be active).

Interestingly, PetSmart is paying for treatment of the infected dogs. That’s pretty surprising, and may set a precedent they might want to avoid. Infectious diseases are a fact of life. We can do things to reduce the risk of exposure, but we can never completely eliminate the risk that our pets (or ourselves) will get an infection. Usually, infectious diseases that happen in facilities are considered an unfortunate fact of life (especially when it’s a vaccine-preventable disease) and facilities rarely cover any costs associated with such outbreaks. In reality, this would be a reasonable approach assuming the facility used standard and reasonable practices to reduce the risk of disease.

If a facility has an infection control plan and adheres to it, whether it’s a boarding facility or a veterinary hospital, it’s hard to expect them to cover the costs of infections, since not all infections are preventable. In contrast, if there is no infection control program or if things aren’t done right, it’s easier to assign blame and expect some financial support. Sometimes, costs are covered purely on a public relations basis, which is perfectly reasonable as well. There’s no indication why costs are being covered here, but it raises some interesting, broader questions about infection control in facilities like this and their role in covering any costs that are incurred from any type of infectious disease exposure.