Dog Virus

COLLEGE STATION, Sept. 27, 2005 – A new strain of flu-type virus has been proven to pass from horses to dogs, a rarity in the animal world – and it’s been detected in Texas .

While it’s not uncommon for a flu-type virus to hop from one animal to another, such as several horses becoming infected from a sick one while all are confined in a close environment, it is rare that a disease is passed to a different species – such as a dog – and cause for concern.

The virus – identified as H3N8, first discovered in Florida – has been confirmed to being passed from horses to greyhounds, killing some of the infected dogs at racetracks in several states, according to results published in the current issue of
Science magazine.

Texas A&M University graduate student Pamela Ferro, one of the authors of the study, says there is no evidence yet of the virus being passed to humans.

“The virus we identified originally started as a horse-type flu,” Ferro explains.

“But this is one of the first viruses of its type that we know has been passed on to dogs. So yes, it is unusual and it is a definite reason to be concerned, especially among dog breeders such as those in the racing industry.”

So far, the disease has been detected in Florida , Texas , Iowa , Arizona , West Virginia , Wisconsin and Massachusetts , says the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC says that while the chance of human infection is very low, the fatality rates for dogs that contract the disease can be as high as 10 percent, an alarming number especially to those in the racing industry where greyhounds have been particularly hit hard.

“We identified the disease last year, and tests proved conclusively this year that the disease is related to the equine influenza strain,” explains Ferro, a researcher in the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

“As you might expect, there are several groups trying hard right now to develop a vaccine to fight it.”

The disease often resembles “kennel cough,” a common ailment found in dogs housed in kennels and a cousin of the bacteria that is often found in whooping cough in children.

Because dogs don’t have a natural immunity to the H3N8 virus, researchers believe it is likely that more dogs will contract the disease, which is highly contagious.

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