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

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The mortality rate is around 5 to 8 percent, says veterinarian Cynda Crawford at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville.

"I want to stress that despite the rumors that are out on the Internet and other such sources, this disease is not as deadly as people want to make it," Crawford said. She says she receives more than 30 calls a day from concerned veterinarians.

Sick Pets

Evidence of canine influenza in pet dogs was first discovered in April, although Crawford says it's unclear which population—pets or racing greyhounds—the virus actually hit first.

The flu is now showing up in Florida animal shelters, boarding facilities, and veterinary clinics, mostly in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach counties.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson alerted the public last week to the canine respiratory disease.

Many Hurricane Katrina evacuees, accompanied by their pets, are temporarily relocating to the state. Bronson believes that the influx of new arrivals could increase the number of infected animals in coming weeks.

The bordetella vaccine, which protects dogs against kennel cough, does not work against the flu, Crawford said. Development of a vaccine for canine flu is currently underway.

In the meantime, Nina Morano of the CDC said owners should take common sense precautions to protect their pooches from the virus:

• If your dog exhibits any signs of respiratory illness, immediately see your veterinarian. Tell the doctor if your dog recently boarded at a kennel.

• Use a boarding kennel you are familiar with.

• Stay on the lookout for announcements of disease outbreaks in your area.

"It's a time to be very watchful and take a reasonable approach, but certainly not to panic," Morano said.

The American Boarding Kennels Association says it knows of only one facility in New York that was hit by the virus earlier this month.

Pets and Public Health

Dubovi, the Cornell veterinarian, hopes the attention raised by the new dog flu virus will help address a fundamental research problem related to animals and public health.

"As populations get denser and domestic animals mix with each other and with wildlife, we have to be aware that disease-causing agents can jump species," he said in a written statement.

"Therefore, the way public health officials monitor the transmission of disease from one species to another must be reexamined closely."

Dubovi sees the need for a surveillance system to quickly identify unusual pathogens in pets.

More than 75 percent of all infectious diseases that have emerged in the last 50 years have come from animals, veterinary experts say.

No cases of humans contracting canine influenza have been reported so far, Dubovi says.

He and his colleagues plan to keep a close watch, though, for any signs that the virus may be harmful to humans.

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