Florida health officials say they have confirmed at least a dozen cases of canine influenza, also known as dog flu. The H3N2 virus is believed to have spread last month among animals at dog shows in Florida and at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry.
The number of cases is small, but some Florida officials recommend pet owners have their dogs vaccinated.
Twelve dogs tested positive for the strain of influenza, According to a news release from the University of Florida. The dogs "testing positive for the H3N2 strain were either at the Perry, Georgia dog show May 19-21 or the DeLand, Florida dog show the following weekend ... " the news release states.
Sharon Yates, a member of the Middle Ga. Kennel Club and chairman of the show in Perry says they had one case confirmed from their show. Yates says the other dogs might have become ill at previous shows at the Ga. National Fairgrounds in the weeks leading up to the Middle Ga. Kennel Club's shows.
The Ga. National Fairgrounds released the following statement, "The Georgia National Fairgrounds conducts all proper protocols when cleaning and disinfecting our facilities after each show leaves our grounds. This is to industry standards. Please direct all questions concerning animal health to the State veterinary office."
Dr. Jeremiah Saliki with the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Georgia says their lab confirmed three cases of the H3N2 virus in dogs that were at Perry dog shows from May 19-21.
Saliki says when dogs congregate at shows are boarding houses it makes it easier for the virus to spread.
DeLand was the site of a Florida dog show, and at the DeLand Animal Hospital, they've seen a few suspected cases. They are being extra vigilant, advising pet owners to monitor their dogs for any flu-like symptoms.
Stephanie Manginelli is proud of her French Mastiffs. They won numerous top awards at last weekend's show, but several dogs apparently took home something else – the dog flu.
Manginelli's dogs seem healthy, but the vet tech decided to vaccinate them anyway, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.
"We gave her vaccine today and at her next show in a couple of weeks, she'll be nice and protected," Manginelli said.
The virus first appeared in the U.S. two years ago, with over 1,000 confirmed cases in the Chicago-area. At least five dogs died. The H3N2 strain has since appeared in 30 states. The illness is rarely fatal but causes sneezing, coughing and nasal discharge.
Melissa Lohsen is a vet tech at a clinic in DeLand. She says the virus is "highly contagious."
"Any pet owners that are bringing their dogs to dog parks, grooming facilities, boarding facilities, dog shows, if they have a very active lifestyle where they take their dog a lot out, then they should [be worried]," Lohsen said.
On Thursday, scientists at the University of Florida urged dog owners to consider getting their pets vaccinated.
"The more dogs in a community that we can vaccinate... the better chance we have of keeping this virus out of the community," Cynda Crawford of the university said.
But skeptics say the alarm is overstated.
Dana Scott ,of Dogs Naturally magazine, thinks pets are over-medicated and drug companies profit.
"I think when it comes to vaccination what you really need to think about is where are these reports [are] coming from," Scott said. "It's basically the vaccine manufacturer keeping track of these diseases … and we are relying on vaccine manufacturers to convey that information to us."
Ken Mattson isn't vaccinating 8-year-old Chloe for now, but is trying to limit close contact with other dogs.
"It's a major concern but it's just something you keep an eye on at this point," he said.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends dog owners consult with their vets to see if their dog's lifestyle puts them at risk for the virus. It's worth noting that out of about 80 million dogs in the U.S., just several thousand have been officially diagnosed.
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