Stop the Spread of Canine Influenza H3N2
Canine influenza H3N2 is capable of causing mild to severe respiratory infections. This strain of virus is rapidly spreading across the United States, and nearly all dogs are susceptible regardless of their age or breed. Because transmission of the disease occurs most often through close contact with an infected animal, uninfected dogs are at risk when in restricted spaces such as clinic waiting rooms.
As a veterinary technician, you are likely in charge of safety procedures in your practice. The following provides you and other staff members with background information on canine influenza as well as offers tips to reduce an uninfected patient’s risk of exposure to the virus while in the clinic.
Risk of Exposure to the H3N2 Virus
As the numbers of dogs confirmed with the H3N2 virus continue to grow, it is important that clinic staff members be aware of the following information:
- CIV occurs year-round and is transmitted via:
- Airborne dispersal
- Physical contact
- Human contact
- Considered to be a community-acquired illness, animals that frequent locations such as the following are at an increased risk of exposure:
- Veterinary clinics
- Veterinary hospitals
- Boarding facilities
- Shelters and rescues
- Day cares
- Training facilities
- Grooming facilities
- Dog parks
- Facilities that welcome dogs, such as pet food stores and farm supply stores
- Dog shows or sporting events.
Increased Risk Factors for CIV
It is important that staff recognize the factors that place an animal at a higher risk of acquiring canine influenza virus (CIV). While a healthy pet can develop the disease, the illness will usually be mild. However, the following animals are at increased risk of developing an infection that can compromise their normal defenses, resulting in severe, and sometimes fatal, cases of pneumonia:
- Pregnant dogs
- Senior aged animals
- Animals with health issues, such as those that are:
- Debilitated and in poor body condition
- Already exposed to secondary bacterial or viral pathogens.
CIV can be difficult to distinguish from other respiratory diseases as it often presents with similar symptoms. Staff should be advised to handle any dog with signs of respiratory infection as if contagious with CIV.
Signs for staff to watch for that could indicate an animal is CIV infected include:
#1 Symptoms of a mild upper respiratory tract infection, such as:
- Dry, nonproductive cough
- Soft, moist cough
- Cough has reportedly persisted for 10 to 30 days
- Nasal discharge that can be either:
- Low-grade fever, up to 103 degrees F
#2 Severe upper respiratory tract infection symptoms, including:
- Nasal discharge that can be:
- High fever, 104 to 106 degrees F
- Increased respiratory rate
Additional signs to watch for:
- Shortness of breath.
Transmission Preventive Strategies for Staff to Follow
Staff should be instructed to defer to the following practices when handling an animal suspected of having CIV:
- Steps to initiate isolation should begin with the staff in charge of appointments. When it is known that an animal is coming to the clinic because it is ill, if the symptoms match those of CIV, all staff should be aware of the appropriate steps to take in order to keep the potentially CIV-infected animal away from other patients.
- Keep any animal that is thought to be infected with CIV away from all other dogs by:
- Asking clients to use a separate area to enter/exit the facility away from other dogs
- Bringing the dog straight into an examination room, avoiding the waiting room
- Completing the evaluation in a separate exam room that can be easily disinfected, preferably one that does not have common air space
- Handle billing, scheduling, other office or clerical needs in a way that helps avoid virus transmission and that protects the area where healthy animals are located.
- Following the examination, staff should:
- Disinfect the entire room from floor to ceiling by using a clinic disinfectant such as a bleach solution at 1:30 dilution
- Thoroughly wash hands with either soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner at times, such as before and after handling an animal, after contact with an animal’s bodily fluids, and after cleaning cages
- Wear barrier clothing such as gloves, gown, and protective shoe covers when working with infected animals or cleaning animal area
- Thoroughly clean clothing worn at the facility
- Change into clean clothes before leaving facility
- Properly dispose of gloves, gown, and shoe covers
Communicate with Clients
- Explain the various ways the virus can be passed to a healthy animal
- Discuss their responsibility for minimizing the spread of the virus, and suggest they follow these steps:
- Regularly wash their hands, food and water bowls, and cages and bedding with soap and water
- Follow veterinary advice and isolate their dog from having contact with other dogs until the infection has run its course. For example, recommend they forego taking dog to activities or facilities where animals that are healthy could be exposed to the virus
- Suggest that, until their pet is recovered and no longer contagious, they avoid handling other dogs unless they are certain they are not contaminated and able to transmit the infection.
Since H3N2 is a newer pathogen, dogs lack the preexisting immunity to fight the virus. The spread of H3N2 can be reduced by a staff that recognizes the signs of infection, understands the mode of transmission, and takes steps toward preventing the disease.
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