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Parvovirus outbreak in Willmar, Minn., area prompts reminder from veterinarians to vaccinate dogs

WILLMAR -- An outbreak of canine parvovirus in the Willmar area has prompted local veterinarians to remind dog owners to make sure their pet's shots are up to date.

Well over a dozen cases, including some deaths, have been reported within the past two to three weeks.

It's a dramatic increase compared to what veterinarians usually see, said Dr. Dan Cook, owner of Country Lakes Veterinary Clinic, Green Lake Pet Hospital and Willmar Pet Hospital.

"We maybe only see a handful a year but we've seen at least a 10-fold increase. It's a lot," he said.

Most of the cases have been clustered on the east side of Willmar. There have also been a handful from the north side of town.

Virtually all of the dogs who've gotten sick either weren't vaccinated for parvo or hadn't received the full series of shots, said Dr. Steven Rumsey of the South 71 Veterinary Clinic.

"It is a preventable disease," he said.

Dogs can become severely ill from parvovirus, he said. "It takes a lot of IV treatments to save them and you don't save them all."

Canine parvovirus is highly contagious. The microbe that causes it can persist in the outdoor environment for up to six months. It is transmitted by direct contact with the feces of an infected dog or indirectly through contaminated objects such as hands, clothing, toys, bedding, and food or water dishes. It does not spread to humans.

Symptoms include vomiting, severe or bloody diarrhea and lethargy. Left untreated, parvo is usually fatal.

Young dogs and puppies under the age of 6 months who haven't been vaccinated or received the full series of shots are the most vulnerable to parvovirus.

"Vaccinations do work and do prevent," Rumsey said.

The cost of a parvo shot is typically between $20 and $30. By contrast, it can cost anywhere from $400 to $700 to treat a dog with parvovirus.

Veterinarians have this advice for local dog owners:

- Make sure your dog is up to date on its shots.

- Use caution when walking your dog outdoors and avoid areas where other dogs have been sick, especially if your dog isn't fully vaccinated.

- If your dog shows symptoms that might be parvovirus, contact a veterinarian.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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