Infection control in veterinary clinics has come a long way in the past few years. However, there are still many challenges, and new situations like the large H3N2 canine flu outbreak in the US Midwest raise more issues. Just like human hospitals, vet clinics need to be proactive to reduce the risk of flu virus transmission between visiting patients. There’s always some inherent risk because sick animals go to vet clinics, and because healthy animals can also shed flu virus; however, there are ways to reduce the risk. One of the most important and easiest things to do is to query each dog’s health status and potential for influenza virus exposure at the time the appointment is booked, if the dog will be coming in in the next few days.
- If the dog has signs that could be consistent with influenza, or if the dog may have been exposed, it can be handled differently at admission (see below).
Have vigilant front office staff looking for sick dogs.
- If a dog enters the clinic and looks sick (and there isn’t a known non-infectious cause for it), it should be flagged as a flu suspect.
Put a sign up on the door asking people to not bring dogs into the clinic that have a cough or that have potentially been exposed to canine influenza virus.
- Instead, have them call ahead (even if it’s from the car) or come into the clinic without the dog first.
Have a plan for handling suspected cases that make it to the clinic.
- The goal is to make sure sick dogs stay away from other dogs, and that personnel handle them with appropriate protective gear (to prevent personnel from passing it on to other dogs via their clothing).
- Once you have a plan, write it down so that all the staff are clear on the details and can refer back to it as needed.
- Have the owner call upon arrival or come into the clinic without their dog to check in.
- Admit the dog directly to isolation through a side or back door, if possible. Otherwise, take it directly to isolation or an examination room, avoiding contact with other dogs. Do not let the dog wait in the waiting room.
- Handle the dog from the start using enhanced protective clothing (e.g. disposable gloves, designated gown or lab coat) that will not be used on other patients.
- Use good general infection control practices. Wash hands after removing gloves. Change protective gear properly so that underlying clothing is not contaminated. Clean and disinfect the environment and common contact items (routine disinfectants, if used properly, will easily kill influenza virus).
- If a suspect must be hospitalized, keep it in isolation and use proper isolation protocols.
It’s not rocket science, nor is it expensive or time consuming. Like most good infection control practices, it just takes some common sense and attention to detail.