A multi-state outbreak of the highly contagious H3N2 canine influenza virus has now been confirmed in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Illinois. Animal shelters and rescue groups have been contacting the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at UF as well as other shelter medicine programs around the country looking for information on preventing the disease from entering their populations.
The single most important thing every shelter or rescue group can do is to try to protect their dogs from coming in contact with sick dogs.
They need to be vigilant in obtaining information about confirmed H3N2 CIV in their community or communities from which they pull dogs. Shelters and rescue groups need to ask owners intending to surrender their dog if the dog has been sick or around sick dogs within the past two weeks. If so, they should ask the owner to quarantine the dog at home for another two weeks
Dogs admitted with respiratory signs and coughing should be immediately isolated pending testing for H3N2 CIV.
Use extra precautions for dogs imported from South Korea and China. These countries are endemic for H3N2 CIV, and there are several instances where imported dogs brought H3N2 CIV with them. Dogs from these countries should be quarantined for two weeks and monitored for coughing, or tested for H3N2 CIV.
What about a canine influenza vaccine?
Many organizations have asked about the role of vaccination for protecting their dogs.
Merck Animal Health and Zoetis have vaccines for H3N2 CIV. Two doses of vaccine must be given for optimum immune response. The doses are administered over a two-to-three-week period, and establish immunity within one to two weeks after the second dose. Just like human flu vaccines, the H3N2 CIV vaccine may not completely prevent infection, but will make it less likely. Additionally, if a vaccinated dog does get infected, the disease is likely to be more mild and of shorter duration. The vaccine can also reduce the risk for pneumonia. The H3N2 vaccines contain killed virus so they cannot cause disease.
In the community, vaccination is the most important tool for reducing or preventing influenza virus circulation. The more dogs vaccinated, the greater the immune barrier, and the less opportunity for virus transmission between dogs.
Shelters and foster-based rescue groups who observe a greater-than-normal number of coughing dogs in their care can consult this document for more information, including how to contact the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF and other experts for assistance and advice.