First canine influenza case confirmed in Brainerd area

The first case of the canine influenza--a highly contagious disease that can be fatal--has been confirmed in the Brainerd lakes area. Testing for canine influenza came back positive for a dog named Bella, believed to be a 2-year-old Landseer, aft...

A 2-year-old Landseer. The Landseer Newfoundland dog is known for its sweet disposition, gentleness, and serenity. CC BY-SA 3.0,

The first case of the canine influenza-a highly contagious disease that can be fatal-has been confirmed in the Brainerd lakes area.

Testing for canine influenza came back positive for a dog named Bella, believed to be a 2-year-old Landseer, after being seen July 18 at Lakeland Veterinary Hospital in Baxter.

Deborah Piepgras, veterinary hospital director, said Bella was adopted July 17 from the Heartland Animal Rescue Team shelter in Brainerd and she saw Bella the next day. The homeowner made an appointment to have Bella checked as the dog was throwing up blood, had a high fever and was lethargic.

Piepgras said after hearing Bella's symptoms Lakeland took all the precautions as they knew HART closed the shelter down the week of July 17 after dealing with a substantial case of kennel cough in the dog population.

"My first concern was that this was influenza after hearing about the outbreak they had in Willmar," Piepgras said. "And my understanding is this dog was at HART for three weeks before it was adopted out."


Piepgras said canine influenza has been spreading quickly, getting closer to the lakes area. Earlier this month, dogs at a animal shelter in Willmar were under quarantine and dog adoptions were suspended after an outbreak of canine influenza was confirmed. Respiratory symptoms first showed up July 7 and by July 10, several dogs were sick at the shelter, the West Central Tribune newspaper in Willmar reported.

Piepgras said of 100 dogs affected by canine influenza, 80 percent of dogs with get sick and the other 20 percent spread the disease but don't show any symptoms. Symptoms include coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy, nasal discharge and fever.

Canine influenza is transmitted through droplets or aerosols containing respiratory secretions from coughing, barking and sneezing. Dogs in close contact with infected dogs in places such as kennels, groomers, daycare facilities and shelters are at increased risk of infection. Canine influenza can be spread indirectly through objects such as kennels, food and water bowls, collars and leashes or people who have been in contact with infected dogs.

There are two strains of the virus-H3N8, which has been found among dogs in multiple states; and H3N2, a newer strain that has caused several disease outbreaks in the past two years. H3N2 is the strain Bella tested positive for, Piepgras said.

H3N2 has been on the rise in Minnesota this spring and summer. According to data collected by the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, 47 cases have been reported in the state in the past 45 days.

Canine H3N2 influenza was first identified in the United States in March 2015 following an outbreak of respiratory illness in dogs in the Chicago area. Prior to this, reports of canine H3N2 influenza virus were restricted to South Korea, China and Thailand, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association website. The other virus was first identified in Florida in 2004 in racing greyhounds.

Piepgras said the virus died quickly in Chicago and people thought it was done with, but recently it has been reported again in dogs in several states.

"A lot of people purchase their dogs from other states," Piepgras said of how the virus is spreading. "And people these days travel more with their pets ... and most clinics are not vaccinating dogs for it. ... So unfortunately once it comes it spreads quickly."


Piepgras said the problem with keeping the virus contained is the incubation period is three to five days and dogs don't always show the symptoms of the disease during this period, therefore spreading it unknowingly.

"This disease is tough," Piepgras said. "It spreads quickly, it is not easy to test for and the testing, unfortunately is not inexpensive, so not every dog gets tested that shows symptoms. And the symptoms are the same as any other kennel cough so you can mistake it for kennel cough if you're not looking.

"I'm pretty concerned about it as we run a boarding and grooming facility. If an affected dog gets in here, every dog that comes in could get exposed because it can live for 48 hours in the environment if we're not killing it. This also goes for any dog in a dog park. If a dog is contagious it will expose all the dogs it comes into contact with or even just walking through Gregory Park. The virus can be spread for weeks.

"Most dogs will recover without any real concern, but they can die from it."

Piepgras said it is a preventable disease. Lakeland recently began carrying the vaccination a few weeks ago for canine influenza when they began seeing more cases in Minnesota. After the Florida outbreak in 2015, the clinic began recommending the vaccination to dogs who used the veterinarian's boarding and grooming services. It became required after the Willmar outbreak. In time, she said the clinic will require the vaccination to dogs for long term coverage

Piepgras said when Bella had her appointment at the clinic, she prepared the staff as she was suspicious the dog had the disease. She said the dog went directly into the exam room and everything was immediately and thoroughly cleaned. She said the dog was kept in isolation and was not around any other pets. Staff followed all the proper cleaning procedures to prevent the virus from spreading.

"If you clean it right away with disinfectants is an easy virus to kill," Piepgras said. "We are pretty used to dealing with infectious diseases."

If dog owners suspect their dog has the virus, Piepgras recommends they call their veterinarian right away to get advice and to set up an appointment if needed. Good hygiene and washing hands thoroughly after touching the pet is recommended.


"Use caution when at dog parks," Piepgras said. "As of right now I would assume the dog park (in Brainerd) could be affected. If you go there I would get your dog vaccinated."

Piepgras said you can't treat the virus, but antibiotics will help alleviated some symptoms.

"You have to let the virus run its course," she said. "And keep your dog in quarantine for three weeks."

Piepgras reported the case to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the agency that tracks the disease, and to HART.

HART issued a press release last week about the shelter closing after being exposed to kennel cough to prevent the spread of the virus. HART stated kennel cough is a common occurrence in animal shelters because of the number of impounded and stray dogs that come in unvaccinated.

HART Executive Director Donna Wambeke said the dog that tested positive for the disease was at the shelter for three weeks. When the dog left she had a slight cough and HART recommended the owner take the dog to a veterinarian clinic. She said when the dog left they already had made the appointment at Lakeland.

Wambeke said when they learned Bella tested positive for canine influenza, HART tested two dogs who were showing symptoms in the animal shelter and they're awaiting test results for the influenza and for kennel cough. When the results are in, HART will discuss the matter with is veterinarian on how to proceed. Wambeke said they have 17 dogs in the shelter, all who are being treated for a week and are showing improvements. Since the outbreak, HART has not accepted any stray dogs and are not allowing any visitors to the shelter to prevent the disease from spreading.

Wambeke said the virus has made its way to Minnesota and HART is not the only animal shelter that has been affected by the disease.


"The public needs to know that veterinarian clinics get the cream of the crop when they see clients and we get the bottom of the barrels," Wambeke said. "We get the animals that nobody else wants. We get the castaways. Ninety-nine percent of the animals we see have never seen a veterinarian, even the personal surrenders we have, when we ask for a vet record the owners have no idea what we are talking about. Our animals have been exposed to everything there is to be exposed too and they have no protection. And besides the diseases, they also are malnutritioned, they're probably parasite infected or flea and tick infected. We are bringing back the really sick and devastated animals."

Wambeke said HART works with an animal rescue group from the southern states where it takes transfer dogs that have been vaccinated, tested for the influenza and been sprayed or neutered. Wambeke said these animal shelters euthanize about 100 dogs a day.

"As a shelter, if we can take these dogs and find good homes for them we will," Wambeke said. "We take about five a week and have done this for about a year and a half. We started doing this because we didn't have any dogs in the shelter."

Wambeke said people may think these transfer dogs spread the canine influenza, but she said no one will ever know for sure where it came from.

"We don't know where it came from," Wambeke said. "It could have come from a dog at the dog park who was contaminated. It could be from someone who touched a contaminated dog and then came to HART and petted a dog. We really don't know where it came from. "

Wambeke said she is not sure when HART will reopen but it could be a week or up to three weeks.

More about canine influenza

Canine influenza viruses belong to the family Othomyxoviridae, it states on the American Veterinary Medical Association website. Canine Influenza is a Type A influenza virus and is based on the composition of two specific proteins in the lipid outer layer of the capsid: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase.


The H3N8 virus has an incubation period of one to five days, with clinical signs in most cases appearing two to three days after exposure. Dogs infected with H3N2 may start showing respiratory signs between two to eight days after infection. Dogs are most contagious during the incubation period and shed the virus even though they are not showing clinical signs of illness. Some dogs may show no signs of illness, but have a subclinical infection and shed the virus.

Canine influenza virus infects and replicates inside cells in the respiratory tract from the nasal lining to the terminal airways, the website states. The inflammatory response to the infection results in rhinitis, tracheitis, bronchitis and bronchiolitis. The pathologic process results in death of the epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, exposing the underlying basement membrane. This predisposes the respiratory tract to secondary bacterial infections that contribute to nasal discharge and coughing.

The majority of infected dogs exhibit the mild form of canine influenza. The most common clinical sign is a cough that persists for 10 to 21 days despite treatment with antibiotics and cough suppressants. Affected dogs may have a soft, moist cough or a dry cough similar to kennel cough. Nasal and/or ocular discharge, sneezing, lethargy and anorexia may also be observed. Many dogs develop a purulent nasal discharge and fever of 104-105.

Some dogs are more severely affected and exhibit clinical signs of pneumonia, such as a high-grade fever and increased respiratory rate and effort. Most dogs recover but deaths due to H3N2 have been reported.

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