Canine influenza outbreak near epidemic in Chicago

Flu season may be ending for people, but a canine strain is making its way around the Chicago area.

The deadly outbreak of canine influenza has seen more than 1,000 cases of infected dogs in recent weeks. The infectious respiratory disease has reported at least five dogs dying from the infection.

In an interview with CBC, Dr. Jerry Klein, supervising veterinarian at the Chicago Veterinary Emergency Center said “It’s almost an epidemic. I’ve been here for 35 years, it’s probably the worst type of outbreak I’ve ever experienced.” Klein’s center has handled about 15 of the canine cases each day.

“We have had a few fatalities, so that’s why it’s exceedingly serious,” Klein said. “It causes pneumonia, in some cases, and some of these dogs have to be on oxygen and on ventilation.”

Although people cannot catch the flu from their pets, this flu is extremely contagious between dogs that come into close contact with one another.

Last week, the Cook Country Department of Animal and Rabies Control urged dog owners to avoid taking their dogs to public places like training activities, travel boarding houses and dog parks.

PetSmart, a boarding facility in Chicago, temporarily closed three of their locations after several dogs fell ill. The locations were being disinfected. PetSmart spokesman Andy Izquierdo says the company is reminding dog owners about the symptoms: runny nose, a fever and persistent cough.

“If they’ve been in a boarding facility, if they’ve been at a doggy day camp, or a dog park, that’s an area where this virus can be spread,” Izquierdo said. “Take a look at your dog, look for symptoms, keep them isolated if at all possible.”

Other “doggy day care” facilities were also limiting their operations.

Dr. Judith Schwartz, the staff veterinarian at the Humane Society of New York, called the outbreak “very” concerning. Especially if it’s within a certain period of time,” “That’s very, very… that’s frightening.”

Schwartz says treating a dog with the flu can cost thousands of dollars if the animal requires hospitalization, but an annual vaccine, which are usually very effective, is about $100.

“It’s (a) concern for me not just because of the animals I see,” Schwartz said, “but we could have a dog in the waiting room saying hello to another dog in the waiting room, and they could be incubating — and no one would know it.”

The number of dog influenza cases are not tracked, however, since the condition was realized in 2004, 40 states have record of dog influenza outbreaks. The worst year was 2011 when 17 states reported infections.

Chicago animal control officials said the outbreak could last several more weeks.

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