Helena Veterinary Service reported Tuesday that they have confirmed a case of a very rare strain of canine influenza, H3N2, in Helena.
The symptoms are often confused with kennel cough, or bordetella, said Lindsay Hash, practice manager with HVS.
“It is the first case we have ever heard of here,” Hash said.
It was treated at their office earlier this week, she said, and was confirmed with a lab test sent to IDEXX diagnostic lab.
Hash recommends that dogs can be vaccinated to prevent the disease if the dog will be at a boarding facility or traveling.
“Keep animals out of the Dog Park," she advised, where it can easily spread.
“The germs for this live quite a bit longer in the environment,” she said, and can travel on clothing and shoes.
H3N2 hit Chicago and other areas of the Midwest in 2015, causing an estimated 1,000 dogs in Chicago to become ill, according to a May USA Today article. It was also reported at that time in Ohio, Alabama, California, Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey, Iowa and Indiana.
It has been identified in 40 states and Washington, D.C., according to an American Veterinary Medical Association fact sheet, which states that since March 2015 more than 2,000 cases had been confirmed positive.
“It’s a virus and it has to run its course,” said Hash.
Veterinarians can only treat the symptoms, which include coughing --very similar to whooping cough in humans, gagging, sneezing, runny nose, phlegm, lethargy and low grade fever.
Cases can be mild with few symptoms or very serious and can result in pneumonia and fatality.
Although the symptoms can be treated, there is no guarantee the disease won’t be fatal, depending on the dog’s medical history, said Hash.
However, most dogs recover within two to three weeks, according to the AVMA fact sheet.
If your dog has symptoms, Hash recommends calling your vet. However, she cautions to not just take your dog to the vet office without calling ahead of time because the virus is highly contagious.
She also urges pet owners to self-quarantine their pets if they are ill.
Pet owners can get their dogs vaccinated, she said. It requires an initial shot and a booster three weeks later, and the cost is “relatively affordable.”
The illness spreads by coughing and sneezing, dogs rubbing noses or by contaminated materials, according to AVMA.
It’s easily transmitted in community settings such as animal shelters, boarding facilities and dog parks, according to a Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine fact sheet.
The fact sheet also states it can spread to cats, but there have been no cases of it spreading to humans.
The virus is almost identical to a strain of avian influenza virus reported in Asia and may have spread to dogs in live bird markets, said AVMA.
Assistant State Veterinarian Tahnee Szymanski said she had not heard of any other cases of H3N2 in Montana, at this time. However, it is not a “reportable disease” that veterinarians are required to report to the state.
However, she said, “we have a fairly good line of communication with vets.”
The only illness the Lewis and Clark Humane Society has dealt with recently was distemper, said executive director Gina Wiest.
“We’re completely distemper free,” she said.
“This is not good,” she added in regards to the confirmed case of H3N2.