Dogs Could be Causing a Flu Pandemic Among Humans
Bird flu, swine flu… Is canine flu the next big pandemic we need to worry about?
With the rise of canine influenza cases, particularly some of its more dangerous strains, researchers are increasingly worried about the potential scale the dog flu could have. As this is a highly contagious virus that spreads quickly from canine to canine, vaccines and other preventative measures are considered to be essential for containing it. But what about their owners? Could dog flu mutate to spread among humans?
A recent study by the American Society for Microbiology proposes that dogs could be a potential reservoir for a future influenza pandemic. When horse flu started infecting dogs in 2004, it led to the first circulating canine influenza, known as H3N8. Almost ten years after that, a new strain of dog flu that first originated in birds (H3N2), started spreading from dog meat farms in China. Now, an entirely different canine flu strain is having researchers worried: a type of avian flu that mutated to spread to pigs, and, subsequently, to dogs (H1N1). This means that now H1N1, H3N2, and H3N8 are all circulating among our pets and it is similar to what was happening in the years before swine influenza became a worldwide pandemic.
The H1N1 that is infecting dogs is not only spreading fast, but it’s also becoming increasingly diverse, mostly due to the diversity of canines themselves. Naturally, this gives cause for concern, as it indicates a potential for the virus to evolve and start spreading among humans. And, as the “hosts” would be dogs in this scenario, it would make things infinitely more complicated, both for the sheer number of furry family members, as well as how close we are to them.
However, while it might sound worrisome, there’s no need to start imagining a gloom-and-doom post-apocalyptic scenario in which dogs are at the root of a worldwide flu pandemic. And it’s not only because there’s still not enough proof that we wouldn’t be immune to it, but because we’re still at a stage where any further complications could be avoided. If more pet owners step up and get their pets vaccinated, as well as follow simple advice for preventing dog flu, there would be much less chance for it to evolve and escalate.