ASPCA Launches National Disease Investigation Initiative

Groundbreaking Study Seeks to Understand “Dog Flu”
November 4, 2009

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® announced today the launch of a three-year study on Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) funded by the Morris Animal Foundation. The initiative will help shelters develop effective testing and control methods to limit the effects of this disease in communities nationwide. The groundbreaking study—conducted by Dr. Miranda Spindel, ASPCA Director of Veterinary Outreach, and Dr. Gabriele Landolt of Colorado State University's Department of Clinical Sciences—will feature ASPCA shelter partners in Tampa, Fla., Austin, TX., Sacramento, Calif., Charleston., S. C., New York, N.Y., as well as a regional shelter in Denver, Colo.

"Canine Influenza is a newly emerging disease that does not discriminate by breed or age," says Dr. Spindel. "It is critical that we gain a better understanding of the transmission of CIV in order to limit its effects."

First identified as a respiratory pathogen in 2004, CIV has spread widely among dogs in the United States. The virus is transmitted in droplets created by coughing and sneezing. As a consequence, close contact and closed environments favor transmission. In fact, the highest incidence of canine influenza is found in dogs that are housed in groups such as in shelters.

"Infection control practices can reduce the risk of CIV and are key to preventing the spread of viral disease within facilities. Due to the fact that the virus is easily transmitted between dogs housed in close contact with each other, it is problematic for animal shelters. This study seeks to address this vulnerable population," Dr. Spindel added.

In addition to examining the spread of CIV among shelter dogs, the study will determine whether a rapid "bedside" test can be effectively used for screening dogs upon entering the shelter. If such a test were available, dogs could be tested for CIV prior to entering the main shelter population, thereby preventing virus introduction.

The scientists will also determine how the CIV virus changes over time, a process known as "genetic drift." As with human flu viruses, animal influenza viruses constantly evolve. New strains can develop that require new vaccine technology. The information gained in this study regarding the potential evolution of CIV in shelters may ultimately aid in the development, improvement and use of vaccines to prevent the disease.