Everyone wants an answer to these questions:
- Are veterinarians in Asheville seeing fewer cases of H3N2 influenza?
- Is it safe for my dog to resume his/her normal life whether it be walking around the block, attending day care, boarding, going to the groomer, attending classes, going to the dog park, or socializing with other dogs?
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to stay well versed on what the true incidence of influenza is at other animal hospitals or in the general area since there is no central reporting agency, most dogs exhibiting respiratory symptoms are not tested for the virus, and many may not be seen by a veterinarian at all. Judging from the low number of cases seen here at Animal Hospital of North Asheville in the last couple of weeks, there is much less danger of your dog being exposed to H3N2 influenza virus than there was in early July, but some danger does still exist. The reality is that no one can say for sure that there is no danger of your dog catching the influenza virus. Since there is no vaccine against H3N2 at this time, it is expected that the influenza virus will stay in the community and occur sporadically from this point forward. However, now that the danger has lessened, one must weigh the benefits of socialization and exercise for your dog against the danger of H3N2.
When assessing risk, keep in mind that the greater the number of dogs your dog is exposed to, the greater the risk. There is more risk in exposing your dog to a large group of dogs from various locations. Remember that dogs housed together indoors can more easily pass the virus to each other. Also important to your risk assessment is for you to know that almost all of the patients we have treated here at AHNA have responded very well to treatment. The virus is not deadly unless complications such as pneumonia occur. Not only are the very young, the old, and those with other health problems more likely to catch the virus if exposed, they are more prone to serious complications as well, so it is more important to protect dogs that fall into these categories.
An interesting aspect of canine influenza is that unlike the influenza viruses that affect humans, H3N2 does not seem to have a seasonal nature. Human influenza viruses flourish in winter because the virus survives outside the body longer at cooler temperatures, and low humidity allows the virus to easily spread through the air because it does not get weighed down by moisture. H3N2 appears to be able to spread any time of year and tends to remain at lower levels in a community year around once an outbreak subsides.
We regret that there is very little information available to us as veterinarians concerning incidence in the area or even information on what other communities such as Chicago or Atlanta have experienced as far as the incidence of cases in the weeks to months following their outbreaks. Canine influenza is not a reportable disease so there is no central reporting agency. In addition, influenza is not frequently tested due to the cost. Thus, assessing case numbers is complicated by the fact that most cases of canine influenza are diagnosed based only on history and symptoms which are can be similar to those of “Kennel Cough” which is caused by different organisms. Fortunately, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the number of cases we have seen lately is very low.