Training facilities, dog shows, dog day-care centers, kennels and grooming salons -- anywhere there is a tight grouping of dogs -- are typical breeding grounds, and nearly all dogs exposed to the virus get infected, showing flu-like symptoms of coughing, sneezing and runny nose.
Health experts have been tracking dog flu for five years, but the actual incidence nationwide is unknown because no central data collection center exists for infectious diseases in pets.
Canine influenza was identified in 2004 by virologists at Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Center after greyhounds at a Florida racetrack were stricken with an unusual respiratory disease. Researchers determined the dogs had a type of H3N8 influenza ordinarily found only in horses.
Several months later, a pet dog in Florida contracted the virus, setting off a wave of publicity. Since then, canine flu has been documented in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
The virus jumps to new communities mostly from the mass movement of shelter animals throughout the country, Dubovi said. Dogs are routinely taken by rescue workers from high kill shelters, usually in the Southeast, and brought to facilities in other states where they stand a better chance of being adopted.
Because dogs have no natural immunity to the virus, it spreads rapidly in closed environments, such as shelters or boarding kennels, making it difficult to eradicate.
In an effort to combat the problem, the ASPCA in New York City recently launched a three-year study to learn if a reliable rapid screening test can be developed to detect the disease before a new dog enters a shelter's main population.
Currently, veterinarians take a nasal swab and send the sample to an outside laboratory for analysis, a process that takes days before influenza is confirmed.
People cannot contract the dog flu, and to date it ha
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