Friday, September 6, 2013

New killer canine virus appears in Ohio

A new threat is stalking the family Fidos of Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture says it is working with other animal health experts to determine the cause and origin of a series of a potentially fatal gastrointestinal dog disease in the state.

The department is also urging Ohio veterinarians to contact the Ag Department's Division of Animal Health if they suspect any animals in their care are suffering from the same disease, believed possibly to be canine circovirus.

The department’s Division of Animal Health has been taking reports of severe dog illnesses in several parts of the state for the past three weeks, said agency spokeswoman, Erica Hawkins.

So bizarre is this here-to-fore unknown canine viral disease that even scientists are calling it “novel” and “emerging.”

Previously circovirus infections were known to impact swine, not canines. The first case of canines being susceptible to a circoviral disease appeared just last year and in California.

There are medications approved for fighting cicovirus in swine though not canines.

“The classification of this new species provides the first direct evidence of an evolutionary relationship between two distinct virus families that includes genetically diverse viruses with single-stranded DNA circular genomes,” says Columbia (university)Technologies Ventures in a recent scientific paper on the subject.

Affected dogs have exhibited similar symptoms including vomiting, bloody diarrhea, weight loss and lethargy.

Although there are several known causes of these symptoms in dogs, it is generally believed that there is an unknown contributor to the cases, the state's top veterinarian says.

“While we continue to work diligently to identify what is making these dogs sick, we are asking Ohio’s veterinarians to help by contacting our laboratory for consultation if they suspect they are treating a related case,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey.

Veterinarians can help by sharing information on what pet owners should look for and how they can protect their dogs, Forshey said as well.

Importantly, Forshey say, owners of dogs with similar symptoms should contact their veterinarian immediately.

The department likewise recommends that concerned dog owners take standard precautions used to reduce the spread of viral infections. Such pro-active steps include monitoring a pet closely for signs of illness as well as refraining from co-mingling them with other dogs.

“The most important thing dog owners can do is call their veterinarian if they have concerns about the health of their pets,” Forshey said. “Your pet's veterinarian is the best person to help determine if your animal is ill and what steps should be taken to help them recover.”

As far as the disease possibly being canine cirocvirus, part of the Ag Department'son-going investigation confirmed a case of the disease a fecal sample taken from an ill dog.

“This is the first laboratory detection of canine circovirus in Ohio,” Forshey said.

Further work is being done to verify the significance of this finding, Forshey said also.

The limited research available shows that canine circovirus can cause vasculitis and hemorrhaging in infected dogs.

“The laboratory confirmation is important because the virus is newly isolated, however we are not prepared at this time to confirm that canine circovirus is the cause of the dog illnesses,” Forshey said. 

“Because the symptoms being exhibited can also be linked to other known illnesses, additional analysis and information is needed to determine if this virus alone or in co-infection contributes to illness and death in dogs.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture will continue to investigate the situation and urge veterinarians who believe they are treating dogs with similar symptoms to consult the Division of Animal Health by calling 614-728-6220.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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