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Update: Dog flu outbreak hits Hawk Creek Animal Shelter in Willmar

Anne Polta / Tribune Dogs at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter are under quarantine and dog adoptions have been suspended after canine influenza was confirmed at the Willmar shelter late last week.

WILLMAR—Dogs at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter are under quarantine and dog adoptions have been suspended after an outbreak of canine influenza was confirmed late last week at the shelter.

Respiratory symptoms first showed up July 7, said Bobbie Bauman, director of operations for the shelter.

By July 10, several dogs were sick, she said. Test results that came back Thursday afternoon confirmed the presence of the canine influenza virus, a highly contagious disease that can sometimes be fatal.

"Influenza is a reportable disease so the Board of Animal Health was contacted," Bauman said.

Following an inspection Friday, the shelter's dog adoption floor was shut down and 20 dogs placed under quarantine.

Shelter staff are taking additional steps to limit the spread of the canine influenza virus, Bauman said. "We're just trying to stay ahead of it," she said.

A temporary impound facility has been set up at another location so the shelter can continue to take dogs brought in as strays, she said. "We'll be caring for those dogs off-site."

Notification was sent to everyone who adopted or claimed an animal from the shelter in the past month, she said.

The shelter also has temporarily stopped accepting dogs surrendered by their owners. Community outreach programs with shelter animals have been halted as well.

The quarantine is expected to last at least three weeks.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is tracking the situation as it unfolds, said Dr. Courtney Wheeler, a veterinarian with the state board.

"We're sort of taking it day by day," Wheeler said Monday. "We'll continue to monitor as long as needed... Hopefully we can contain it."

No shelter dogs have died since the outbreak began earlier this month. But of the 20 dogs under quarantine, about two-thirds have gotten sick, Bauman said.

Shelter staff have been working around the clock administering fluids and medications and providing supportive care, she said. "They get pretty sick for about 48 hours."

Wheeler had praise for how the shelter has been handling the outbreak and communicating with the public.

"They've done a really good job of ramping up their biosecurity. I've been really impressed," she said. "They're being exceptionally responsible and we're very thankful for that."

The dog that tested positive last week for the H3N2 strain of the canine influenza virus was a 10-month-old male border collie cross who arrived at the shelter as a stray, Bauman said.

But it's not known how the virus was carried into the shelter, she said Monday. "We don't have any idea where it came from."

An older strain of the virus, H3N8, has been found among dogs in multiple states. The H3N2 virus is a newer strain that has caused several disease outbreaks in the past two years.

H3N2 has been on the rise in Minnesota this spring and summer. According to surveillance data collected by the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, 47 cases have been reported in the state in the past 45 days.

The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected dogs. It also can be spread through contact with contaminated objects such as cages or food and water dishes.

Symptoms include coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy, nasal discharge and fever.

Dog owners who suspect their pet may have canine influenza or may have been exposed to the canine influenza virus should call their veterinarian right away, Wheeler said.

Owners should be aware of the potential for the virus to spread at dog parks, kennels and other settings where dogs can come into contact with each other, she said. "Every dog owner needs to assess that risk. It's a good discussion for every dog owner to have with their veterinarian."

Dog flu does not infect humans.

The quarantined dogs at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter will be available for adoption once they recover and the quarantine is lifted, Bauman said.

The shelter's cat population remains healthy and unaffected by the quarantine, she said. Cat adopters can continue to visit the shelter during business hours.

Anne Polta

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

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