Canine influenza continues to be a problem in some areas of Texas, most notably in the Austin area. A recent news report indicates 30 confirmed cases and 70 suspected H3N8 canine influenza cases since September.
It’s hard to say what the scope of the problem really is, but something’s definitely happening. Getting good data about infectious diseases of companion animals is difficult because there is no central surveillance program and government animal health agencies tend to have little interest in non-food animals. Data tend to be assembled by word of mouth, which can lead to either over- or under-estimation of the problem. As highlighted by the number of “suspected” cases, lack of diagnostic testing is also an issue. Since dog owners have to pay for the testing themselves and since, for influenza, test results rarely change what’s done for initial treatment of the dog, many people are reluctant to have the tests done. That leaves us with large numbers of unconfirmed cases, as is this situation. When there is documented flu activity in the area, a suspected case could quite likely be influenza. The bigger problem is in areas where flu is not common or hasn’t been found, because canine flu looks no different than several other causes of respiratory disease, and knowing whether it’s really flu is important for making vaccination decisions, as well as implementing certain infection control measures.
Avoiding exposure to canine flu is tough in areas where flu is active, just like it is for people when human flu is circulating. One of the big problems is that infected dogs start shedding the influenza virus from their respiratory tract before they get sick. Therefore, staying away from sick dogs and keeping your dog at home if it has signs of disease can’t completely prevent exposure. However, these steps are still very important as they can help reduce the risk. Vaccination is another measure to reduce the risk. Vaccination is not 100% protective but it is an important part of influenza control in dogs that might be exposed to the virus.