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Mystery disease killing dogs in South Florida

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2008 at 10:30AM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in | Comments6 Comments | References1 Reference

Dogs are dying in Miami and are very ill in Fort Myers, Florida.  Everyone knows where Miami is; Fort Myers is located at the opposite tip of the Florida peninsula, on the Gulf of Mexico.  But the two municipalities are sharing a sad distinction:  Dogs in shelters are dying of a sudden, overwhelming and as-yet-unknown disease.

Things started this time last week at the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter.  the shelter is located in Medley, which is an industrial area northwest of Miami.  last week, dogs started getting very sick -- and dying quickly and horribly.  The descriptions of the dead dogs reminded me immediately of the deaths of GIs during the 1918 pandemic.  Lungs and abdomens filled with blood and fluid,; dogs lying in pools of their own blood.

Dr. Sara Pizano, director of animal services at the county-run shelter, told two television stations -- the CBS and ABC affiliates -- that she suspects a new and emerging pathogen. "It's not a normal infectious disease for a shelter," said Pizano, "it's well beyond that so we think we're looking at a new emerging disease."   the Miami Herald reported:

Neither she nor the shelters' other vets -- with 50 years' combined experience, she said -- ''have ever seen lungs so bad'' as the latter.

Lab tests have shown the Streptococcus zooepidemicus bacterium sickened the dogs, but Pizano believes further tests might indicate a virus is also at work.

On the opposite tip of the peninsula, in Fort Myers, the daily News-Press is reporting an outbreak of a mystery illness at the Lee County Animal Shelter:

About six to 12 dogs at the shelter have coughing and a runny nose, said Jim Desjarlais, interim animal services director. Desjarlais said it is unknown exactly what the disease is, but it might be a new strain of canine respiratory corona virus, or CRCV.

The University of Florida (Go Gators!  Go Tebow!) has been called in to do research.  Samples have been collected and the University's school of veterinary medicine, which is one of the best veterinary schools in the nation, is desperately seeking the viral cause of the outbreak. Samples have also been sent to California for independent analysis.

But the words "corona virus" in the News-Press story are ominous.  Recall that SARS was/is a coronavirus gone mad.  The supposition that it could not only be H3N8, but also possibly a SARS-like coronavirus that impacts dogs, is worrisome. 


CANINE RESPIRATORY CORONAVIRUS (CRCV) SPIKE PROTEIN, POLYMERASE AND HEMAGGLUTININ/ESTERASE The present invention relates to biological material, and in particular to a canine respiratory coronavirus that is present in dogs having canine infectious respiratory disease.

Canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) is a highly contagious disease common in dogs housed in crowded conditions such as re-homing centres and boarding or training kennels. Many dogs suffer only from a mild cough and recover after a short time, however in some cases a severe bronchopneumonia can develop (Appel and Binn, 1987).

The pathogenesis of CIRD is considered to be multifactorial, involving several viruses and bacteria. The infectious agents considered to be the major causative pathogens of CIRD are canine parainfluenzavirus (CPIV) (Binn et al., 1967), canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2) (Ditchfield et al., 1962) and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bemis et al., 1977, Keil et al., 1998). Also, canine herpesvirus, human reovirus and mycoplasma species have been isolated from dogs with symptoms of CIRD (Karpas et al., 1968, Lou and Wenner 1963, Randolph et al., 1993) Additional factors like stress may also be important.

CIRD is rarely fatal but it delays re-homing of dogs at rescue centres and it causes disruption of schedules in training kennels as well as considerable treatment costs.

Vaccines are available against some of the infectious agents associated with this disease, namely Bordetella bronchiseptica as well as CPIV and CAV-2.

However, despite the use of these vaccines, CIRD is still prevalent in kennels world-wide, which is possibly due to the vaccines not providing protection against all the infectious agents involved in CIRD.

We have discovered a novel coronavirus, which we have called canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCV), in a large kennelled dog population with a history of endemic respiratory disease, and we have shown that this virus is associated with CIRD.

Some members of the family coronaviridae are known to cause respiratory disease in humans, cattle, swine and poultry (Makela et al., 1998, Pensaert et al., 1986, Ignjatovic and Sapats 2000). For example, bovine respiratory coronavirus is associated with shipping fever in cattle which is a multifactorial respiratory disease (Storz et al., 2000).

However, coronaviruses were not suspected to have a role in the pathogenesis of CIRD. Indeed, with only a single exception, canine coronaviruses have been reported to be enteric viruses and to cause acute diarrhoea mainly in young dogs (for example, Tennant et al., 1993). In a large study of viruses involved in canine respiratory diseases, Binn et al. (1979) reported the detection of a canine coronavirus in the lung of a single dog that was also infected with SV5 and canine adenovirus 2, two other viruses that are associated with canine respiratory disease. (Bold all mine).

So, in 2003 -- about the same time that SARS was raging across Asia, and experts were digging in for the Next Pandemic -- a novel coronavirus was beginning to also afflict dogs.  Thus was CRCV discovered.  Is this simply coincidence, or was a freak coronavirus on the march, leaving its wild natural host and searching for other mammals to infect?  

Kennel cough is a bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and vaccines are widely available to prevent its occurrence.  What is occurring in South Florida may or may not be viral -- but there is ample previous evidence to suggest something old, or something new.

Dog flu, or H3N8 canine influenza, is not new to Florida.  There have been multiple outbreaks over the past few years, the most serious occurring in 2005.  The virus attacked racing greyhounds first; then, the disease spread to shelters and veterinarians' offices.  The virus was typed by the University of Florida and the CDC.

As Dr. Mike Osterholm of the University of Minnesota recently said, H3N8 was sequestered in horses for decades; then, suddenly, and sometime between 1999 and 2003, H3N8 jumped the species barrier and attacked dogs.  No surveillance prompted alerts or warnings; the species jump was unanticipated, sudden and devastating.  The outbreak threatened the entire greyhound racing industry, which is sick enough already due to lagging pari-mutuel activity across Florida.  Whatever your feelings about dog racing (I am not a fan), it is pitiable to see such fine animals stricken with influenza.

The problem with the 2004/05 outbreaks in Florida was how quickly the virus jumped up the Eastern Seaboard of the state.  One day it was in Miami, Pompano Beach, and West Palm Beach, all on the Gold Coast; the next, it seemed that animal clinics in Jacksonville, some 300 miles away, were experiencing cases.  From there, the virus spread to New York and Massachusetts.

Dr. Henry Niman reminds us that polymorphisms of H3N8 canine influenza from Florida have been discovered in H5N1 in mammals in Indonesia as recently as 2006.  Those specifically would be: DQ124152 A/canine/Florida/43/2004, and DQ124160 A/canine/Florida/242/2003, both H3N8.  How the heck did that happen? How did Florida dog flu polymorphisms get into Indonesian H5N1?

The CRCV paper can be read at: http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/en/wo.jsp?WO=2004%2F011651&IA=WO2004%2F011651&DISPLAY=DESC

The University of Florida maintains a Website devoted to dog flu. It can be found at: http://www.rgp.ufl.edu/publications/explore/v11n2/story3.html 

The entire Flutrackers thread on the Florida outbreak, including links to television video, can be found at: http://www.flutrackers.com/forum/showthread.php?t=53517 .

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Reader Comments (6)

Remember that H3N8 was originally a bird virus. Bird to horse to dog.

February 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhytosleuth

There is/ was definately something going on at the Ft. Myers animal shelter. I adopted a dog there in mid February - he appeared healthy when we were at the shelter for more than an hour playing with him. We also looked at and took out several other dogs. I noticed some had a slight cough but assumed it was "kennel cough" which is usually not a big deal. But when I went to pick him up 4 days later, was told he had died and had been a very sick animal (looked fine on the day I adopted him). The entire shelter had been cleared out, no dogs for adoption. A reporter in Ft. Myers told me that at least 8 of the dogs adopted around that time had died (not just a common cold). Since the last week of February I've had the flu that I cannot shake, along with other symptoms including diarrhea, fever and neuritis (leg pain). Although it seems like this is just the bad flu that is going around it does seem a bit unusual. My doctor has me on penicillin now - perhaps I should mention this story to her?

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFloridaNative

I visited Pensacola, Florida with my 6mo old puppy - around the end of Feb to early March. A week after our arrival home, my dog had a cough and a fever. The first thing the next morning I was at the vet before they opened. Severe URI Upper Respiratory Infection. Prescribed antibiotics, and nebulizer treatments. Day 3 we did a PCR panel via throat and eye swabs and waited for the news on what horrible thing we brought home. Today I wake up to two more dogs coughing - all under 6months of age. The vet was in and we got them immediate treatment, and the news of our PCR test. The test confirmed CRCV Canine Respiratory Corona Virus! So I know of at least one confirmed case here in Houston, Texas... And two more suspected in my own home with two girls due to whelp over the next three weeks. What do I do? I've quarantened my animals from visiting anyone else, but I know I wasn't the only one in Pensacola with my dog from Texas... How do we get the word out?

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHouston Texan

Houston Texan,
I will forward your comments to the University of Florida's vet school for analysis. I would report this to your local humane society and/or animal shelter, that anyone who took their dogs to pensacola may have brought back CRCV. You may also want to call a local newspaper (Chronicle?) about the story.
Good luck!

March 18, 2008 | Registered CommenterScott McPherson

Good News! We treated four cases of CRCV in our home with quarantine, nebulization (mucomyst+gentocin+saline), antibiotics (cephalexin oral suspension), and as far as we can tell the cycle has stopped here. The quarantine was the hardest part because between the "symptomless" and the "ill" we had to bleach concrete, sanitize ourselves and change clothes multiple times a day. We also bought UV air filters (two small and one large) for the house to remove the virus from the air. There seemed to be about a 7 day incubation period starting from exposure from a virulent dog (which is just a dog with a fever, but usually a day before symptoms started). We had one go down hard and fast within three (3) hours of first "cough" and almost lost her because the phlem became so thick and abundant that we lost an airway several times. I can now imagine that with that much phlem (sometimes in excess of 1/4 cup per choking episode!) that a dog forced to cough overnight without supervision could end up face down in a pool of blood (and mucous) by morning. We paid special attention to fever on the third cycle, and were able to prevent a fourth cycle of CRCV. I never got sick and I was in the thick of it, personally treating the sick ones and cleaning up after them with no "mask" on. I am thrilled to say that I have 2 week old babies thriving in the furthest room of my house from where the illness began. No one else has shown symptoms now for at least 4 weeks and 4 potential CRCV cycles. There is hope if you pay attention and treat within hours of first symptoms... This is not an illness to be left to "see what happens". I've never had anything like it. I'm glad to see it go!
I've seen posts about CRCoV and CRCV, do you know what the difference is? Is CRCV the same as CRCoV?
Exhausted from the work, but thrilled to have healthy puppy breath in Texas!

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHouston Texan

My dogs are sick and I can not figure it out. I live in Pensacola and called the vet to see if there had been any reports of dogs with severe diareaa and they said no. I just called a friend and she said her dog was sick and my cuzins dog also just died. thats three dogs very sick and one of them died. I am so scared. I also have sugar gliders can they get this. please advise sytems of animals . how do i get the word out. it seems so hush hush

December 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRenee Maneen

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