New Dog Flu Spreads in U.S., But Death Rate Is Low

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
September 27, 2005

A new, highly contagious respiratory virus thought to affect only the greyhound racing industry is now being detected in family dogs.

Canine influenza, a sometimes deadly disease, has struck pet dogs in New York, Florida, and Massachusetts, researchers said at a press conference held yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Edward Dubovi at Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center in Ithaca, New York, said serum samples from a number of suspected outbreak cases are arriving at his laboratory for testing.

He says he should know by the end of this week if the virus has infected more pets in other states.

Jumping Species

Canine flu was first discovered last year after an unusual illness began to appear at greyhound racetracks in Florida.

Cornell virologists, working with researchers at the CDC and the University of Florida, determined the sick greyhounds had a type of influenza ordinarily found only in horses.

This finding is the first scientific report of an equine influenza virus jumping the species barrier, and researchers are unsure how it occurred.

Virtually 100 percent of exposed dogs become infected, the researchers said. The virus is spread from dog to dog via coughing, contaminated objects, and even people.

Nearly 80 percent of dogs exposed to the virus contract only a mild form of the disease, which mimics kennel cough—a type of canine bronchitis that is rarely serious.

Canine influenza symptoms include low-grade fever, cough, and nasal discharge.

Nearly 20 percent of infected animals do not display any clinical signs but can still spread the disease.

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