More than 1,000 dogs in Chicago have been hit with canine influenza, ABC News reported Monday. The rare virus forced the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control to issue an advisory following the deaths of five dogs in the past month.
"It's almost an epidemic," Dr. Jerry Klein told WBBM-TV, Chicago. "I've been here for 35 years. It's probably the worst type of outbreak I've ever experienced."
People cannot catch the virus from their pets, but it’s highly contagious among dogs.
Like with the human flu, there is a vaccine for dogs. “This isn’t a typical vaccination we give, but because of the outbreak, we’re recommending it for all high-risk dogs,” Dr. Anne Cohen, an emergency veterinarian, told ABC News. The two-dose vaccine is given three weeks apart.
Owners can give their pets a booster shot each year to ward off the sickness. Treating a dog with influenza can cost thousands, but a yearly shot is cheap by comparison, just $100, WBBM reported.
Dogs who are more likely to get sick spend time at the groomers, day care and animal-friendly parks. "If they've been in a boarding facility, if they've been at a doggy day camp, or a dog park, that's an area where this virus can be spread," PetSmart spokesman Andy Izquierdo told WBBM. "Take a look at your dog, look for symptoms, keep them isolated if at all possible."
Washing hands and keeping areas clean can help protect pets. "The way humans act as a vector is if we get any of the dog's sputum, the nasal discharge, the cough, the aerosolized types of particles on our hands when we're touching them -- from their leash, their clothing, from their bedding -- and then we go to another dog and pet that dog without washing our hands,” Dr. Donna Alexander with Cook County Animal Control told WLS-TV, Chicago.
The canine flu symptoms are similar to the human flu: fever, cough, nasal discharge and lack of energy. Another comparison to the human flu: It can be caught through sneezes and coughs, nose-to-nose contact or from infected surfaces.
Though five dogs have died, Cohen said the canine flu is rarely fatal. Anyone who suspects his or her pet is sick should consult a veterinarian.
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