Dreaded dog flu making a comeback for spring

The highly contagious canine flu that hit Chicago-area dogs hard last year has made a resurgence, sickening at least 150 dogs at several shelters across the city.

Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society, which has seen a recent uptick in the virus, halted dog adoptions and temporarily shut two downtown adoption centers as it cares for 100 sickened canines at its main facility at 157 W. Grand Ave. Officials with PAWS say they're currently caring for between 40 and 50 dogs suffering from flu in an isolation ward at their medical center. Dogs there will be quarantined for 30 days, founder Paula Fasseas said. During last year's outbreak, PAWS treated 350 cases of canine flu, she said.

This is thought to be the same H3N2 strain that sickened 1,700 dogs in Cook County beginning last spring — as well as dogs in 27 other states, according to the animal welfare organizations. The spread of the virus has likely been aided by recent warmer weather.

"It's made a new comeback of sorts due to the spring weather and people having their dogs interacting more," Anti-Cruelty Society spokeswoman Colette Bradley said Tuesday, days after officials there sounded the alarm to area dog owners via the Internet and social media.

The Anti-Cruelty Society's home page features a photo of a weary-looking dog with an ice pack on its head under the headline "Help us" and calls on dog owners to help keep the infection rate down. Advice includes vaccinating dogs to stem the outbreak and minimizing contact with unknown dogs.

Dog flu is a respiratory disease that can't be spread to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but can easily pass to other dogs at shelters, kennels and dog parks. Dogs affected by the flu have a persistent cough, fever and runny nose.

The newest cases of the communicable illness has led the Anti-Cruelty Society to temporarily close its dog adoption site at 510 N. LaSalle St. and its center at PetSmart's South Loop store, 1101 S. Canal St. The dogs being cared for at its main River North facility on Grand Avenue will be kept in isolation for at least 21 days, as staff care for the ailing dogs and hope to keep the virus at bay.

"And now these wonderful animals have to wait at least several more weeks before they can possibly find their forever home," Robyn Barbiers, president of the Anti-Cruelty Society said to supporters in an email Monday.

The cost of caring for and isolating the animals, along with cleaning, equipment and medical care, is expected to top $28,000 for the Anti-Cruelty Society, though officials say the price is well worth it.

"It's going to be very expensive, very time-consuming, but we want to make sure that these dogs get better and they're able to get adopted hopefully within three weeks," Bradley said.

Vaccines for the dog flu are available at veterinary offices, officials said.


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A version of this article appeared in print on March 23, 2016, in the News section of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "Dreaded canine flu makes comeback - Adoptions of dogs temporarily halted as H3N2 returns" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe