A highly contagious new strain of dog flu has arrived in Monterey County in recent weeks, and for unvaccinated dogs, it can be deadly.
There are two strains of canine influenza – H3N8 and H3N2 – and there have been three confirmed cases in Monterey County this year of H3N2, which has never been documented in the county until now.
The virus was discovered in 2015 in Illinois, but is thought to have originated in bird markets in Asia. It’s particularly contagious because, unlike H3N8, dogs that are infected with the H3N2 strain can spread it – by coughing, barking, sneezing, etc. – for two to three days before exhibiting any symptoms, which are similar to those seen in kennel cough.
The strain is also hardy, and can survive for 48 hours on surfaces, 24 hours on clothing and 12 hours on hands. Unlike human flu, dog flu is not seasonal.
It is thought the virus entered the area by way of San Jose, which had 42 confirmed cases from Dec. 27 to Jan. 30. On. Jan. 9, Dr. Valerie Brons, a veterinarian at West Valley Pet Clinic in San Jose, sent an email to other veterinarians in the area to warn of an outbreak in their midst.
“The good news is, so far, treated cases have not been fatal,” she wrote.
Merck, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures a vaccine that covers both of the strains, hosted an event at Haute Enchilada in Moss Landing on Jan. 29 to educate local vets about the virus.
“We’re all getting prepared, and most veterinarians are carrying vaccines in high numbers,” says Dr. Bill Sullenberger, a veterinarian at Pet Specialists of Monterey (which is in Del Rey Oaks), which has treated one dog with a confirmed cases of H3N2, and another dog showing symptoms which tested positive for exposure to the virus (that dog was given a serology test, which can only detect antibodies, but not the virus).
“It’s definitely something worth getting a little excited about and getting proactive about,” he says. Because the area is a travel destination, Sullenberger adds, there is the added potential for dogs to be exposed to infected dogs from elsewhere.
Dr. Karen Fenstermaker, a vet at Ocean View Animal Hospital in Pacific Grove, says her clinic has had several sick dogs tested for flu, but the lab results have so far come back negative.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the game by vaccinating as many dogs as possible,” she says, adding that it requires two shots – the second shot is given two to four weeks after the first – and that resistance doesn’t take effect until two weeks after the second shot.
She adds that 20 percent of dogs that contract H3N2 never show symptoms.