Parvovirus outbreak in Cayman

Vets
are warning dog-owners to vaccinate their pets against the highly contagious
and potentially deadly canine parvovirus, which is spreading among Grand Cayman’s
dog population.

In
recent weeks, staff at the Island Veterinary Clinic have seen about 100 dogs
infected with the virus, which is usually fatal if left untreated.

“A
couple of weeks ago, we had so many cases that we had no more room,” said
Island Veterinary Clinic veterinarian Andreea Sleahtenea. “The dogs have to be
kept in isolation. They cannot be kept with other animals because the disease
is so contagious.”

Owners
of some animals that contracted the virus abandoned them at the Humane Society,
which has been helping people financially who cannot afford the treatment of
the virus.

“For
the past one or two months, it’s been crazy. We had a few cases of people
finding out their dogs had parvovirus and abandoning them. Mostly we’ve been
assisting people with financial assistance… we’ve helped a lot of people this
month and last month,” said Jason Jairam of the Humane Society.

Veterinarians
advise owners of puppies to get them vaccinated at six weeks. Booster vaccines
should be given to young dogs between 14 and 16 weeks and another booster at
age one, followed by boosters every one to three years for the rest of the
dog’s life.

Veterinarians
are urging owners who have not vaccinated their dogs to do so immediately.

Dogs
contract the virus by ingesting infected excrement. They do not need to be in
direct contact with another dog to become infected, as the virus can
contaminate shoes, clothing, soil, cages and floors, explained Tiffany Durzi of
St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine.

“The
virus is very stable and can remain in the environment for months to years if
proper disinfection does not occur,” she said.

The
vaccination against the virus comes in three doses, given three weeks apart and
costs $30 each time.

The
Humane Society sponsors an annual free vaccination programme, which was carried
out in February and March.

“It
costs $100 a day to treat the disease once the dogs get it and most need three
to five days of treatment, so it’s worth the $90 in total to get your dog vaccinated.
Prevention is better than cure,” Ms Sleahtenea said.

Once
ingested, the virus infects the lymphoid tissue and the blood and suppresses
the dogs’ immune system. It can cause a secondary bacterial infection in the
blood known as sepsis. The virus also infects the cells that line the small
intestines causing the classic parvoviral signs of vomiting and diarrhoea, Ms
Durzi said.

“Whether
or not a dog becomes infected by canine parvovirus depends on several factors,
including the amount of virus ingested, the strength of the dog’s immune system
and the history of previous vaccination. Clinical signs of the disease may
range and can include subtle signs such as a decrease in appetite, a decrease
in energy level, and a low-moderate fever,” said Ms Durzi.

Dogs
infected with the virus typically suffer severe vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Infected
animals are given intravenous fluid for dehydration and antibiotics to treat
bacterial sepsis.

The
disease is more commonly seen in dogs younger than a year old, Ms Durzi said,
although all dogs are susceptible.

She
advised that basic hygiene and disinfection are key to controlling the disease,
especially in households where there are multiple puppies. 

“Floors,
cages, food bowls and surface areas should be cleaned with bleach diluted in a
1:30 solution. People who come in contact with animals that are infected should
ensure that they disinfect their clothes and shoes as well. Of course, basic
hand hygiene is always imperative,” Ms Durzi said. Humans cannot contract canine
parvovirus.

Owners
who suspect their dog has symptoms of the virus should seek veterinary help
immediately.

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