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Watchdog: Fast-spreading dog virus nears Crossroads

Sept. 29, 2011 at 4:29 a.m.


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A potentially dangerous and quick-spreading dog virus is at the Crossroads' front door.

Some veterinarians worry pet owners, many of whom might not know about the virus, will fail to protect dogs in time.

The virus in question is canine influenza, or dog flu. Texas is now one of 38 states in which dogs are exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most notably, veterinarians confirmed the virus in dogs in San Antonio, Austin and Houston - cities just down the road and frequent stops for many Crossroads residents.

"The reason we're concerned now is that it's spreading much closer to us than in the past," Randy Froehlich, a veterinarian and medical director of VCA Victoria Animal Hospital on Sam Houston Drive, said. "A handful of dogs have died."

Last week, San Antonio veterinarians reported 20 confirmed cases of dog flu and another 70 suspected cases within the last month, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Dogs, like people, lack a natural immunity to the flu and thus it spreads quickly. Froehlich said symptoms resemble a bad cold: shortness of breath, fever, runny nose and coughing.

Some dogs that suffer from canine influenza exhibit no symptoms. Others, however, can develop pneumonia and die.

Dog flu became a concern about seven years ago when a horse flu - prevalent for more than 40 years - jumped species to canines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus adapted to cause illness in and spread rapidly among dogs.

While the number of dogs that die from infection remains minimal - about 5 to 8 percent die, Froehlich said - the costs of failing to vaccinate could be steep. Dogs that don't receive treatment and then catch pneumonia often require hospitalization.

Bain Cate, director of the Victoria City-County Health Department, said his office does not track the existence or number of regional dog flu cases.

Edward Wozniak, a Region 8 veterinarian for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that because dog flu is not transmissible to humans, his office additionally does not track such cases. Region 8 begins in the Rio Grande Valley and includes the Crossroads.

Both Cate and Wozniak said veterinarians keep track of dog flu cases. So far, veterinarians in the Crossroads have not reported any canine influenza cases, Froehlich said.

Because veterinarians confirmed the virus in nearby urban centers, however, it's important residents here understand the implications, Froehlich said.

Some quick facts about dog flu:

The virus is not transmittable to humans, cats or other species.

It is an airborne virus. Thus, it can spread by direct contact with an infected dog and by contact with contaminated objects. Public areas, such as dog parks, boarding kennels and grooming offices, can easily spread the virus.

If people touch a sick dog, they can pass the virus from an infected pet to an uninfected pet.

If your dog exhibits flu symptoms, call your veterinarian, who can test your pet for the virus. To help protect your pet from the flu, follow the same precautions as you would to protect your family: Keep your hands, clothing, equipment and home surfaces clean, and avoid taking your dog to public areas.

The best protection, perhaps, is the vaccine. Froehlich said his office administers the vaccine for $14, a discounted rate good through the end of the year.

"I don't want to panic people because it's a really contagious flu virus. It's not proven to be the epidemic we feared a few years back," Froehlich said. "But because it's so close, it's just a matter of time. I'd rather people be prepared before it gets here."

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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