Infectious respiratory disease isn’t exactly rare in dogs. A variety of viruses, bacteria and Mycoplasma can cause what we generically call canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC, formerly and still commonly called “kennel cough”). We see clusters of disease periodically and hear rumours of larger outbreaks, but usually there’s not a lot of additional information available.
It’s clear that something has been going on in Orangeville, Ontario. A relatively large number of dogs have been taken to local vets with respiratory disease, and reports of other sick dogs have been coming in. The story’s been reported on the local CTV new, and in a few news articles, some of which have pointed people in my direction. In some ways, that’s good, since we need to understand what’s going on and self-reporting is one way to get data. The hard part is figuring out how to use the information.
As is common, the information has made its way around the internet, and I’ve been inundated with emails… some from the Orangeville outbreak, and some completely unrelated messages from across the country. Data from informal, unstructured collection like this can be pretty unreliable. All we’re getting are reports from owners, with no standard case definitions and no idea what percentage of sick animals are being identified. However, I don’t think there’s any such thing as bad surveillance data, as long as the limitations are recognized. In this case, while any information gathering from outside of Orangeville was unintended, some interesting things have turned up. Specifically, a large number of reports of sick dogs have come from Ottawa. Reports from Halifax also seem high.
Putting these data into context is difficult. Just like I need to know what a healthy dog looks like to know what an abnormal dog looks like, I need to know what normal disease patterns are to pick up abnormal ones. The problem is, we don’t know much about the “normal” level of canine respiratory disease in any area. So, since we don’t know the endemic (baseline) disease rates and we have no formal surveillance, I can’t say with confidence that there are increased respiratory disease cases in Ottawa (and maybe Halifax). However, I think there’s enough information to raise a flag and try to get more information. That means directing efforts at letting dog owners and veterinarians know something might be up, and trying to get more data.
In terms of disease surveillance, keep the reports coming (just remember that we’re collecting data to look at trends and not to give out medical advice).