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First-ever flu vaccine for Fido approved

June 15, 2010 |  4:20 pm

Dog It may surprise you to learn that since 2004, man's best friend has had to endure the misery of influenza just as we have, since a strain of influenza known as H3N8 apparently jumped from horses to dogs and developed the ability to spread readily from hound to hound.

And if dogs worried the way humans did, they'd be worried about H3N8 for the same reasons we all worried about the H1N1 virus that suddenly appeared last year: Since dogs have developed no immunity to this new canine influenza virus, they're prone to catching it very readily if exposed. And because dogs, like their human companions, lead busy, active lives -- going to doggie daycare, putting up in boarding kennels, attending dog shows and meeting friends at dog parks -- they're at risk of developing the symptoms we recognize so well: sneezing, coughing, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and even pneumonia.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted outbreaks of doggie influenza in 33 states.

What comes next should be no surprise: The USDA, which oversees biological medicines administered to animals, has just licensed Nobivac, a first-ever vaccine to protect Fido against canine influenza. Generally, any dog that is in close contact indoors for more than six hours with another dog is considered at risk, and a dog's human companion should consider asking the veterinarian about the shot, produced by Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health.

Nobivac has been in limited use under a conditional license for a year, while further safety trials have been conducted, according to Dr. Lisa Saabye, a veterinarian and technical service manager for Intervet. Saabye said those trials have shown the vaccine to be "overall very safe," with no adverse reactions observed in 746 dogs vaccinated. The vaccine is to be given as an initial injection, then a booster between two and four weeks later, and after that, yearly.

Canine flu does not circulate during a predictable season, as do most strains of influenza that affect humans. But Saabye said that summer seems to bring an uptick in outbreaks because dogs tend to spend more time together with other dogs in kennels while their human companions vacation.

Wonder if your dog's feeling poorly? Check out symptoms here.

-- Melissa Healy 

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Photo credit: Kieran Doherty / Reuters

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