Could you catch flu from your dog?

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Zoonostic diseases (caused by bacteria, virus and parasites that spread from animals and humans) include Ebola and Salmonella.  Scientists at Korea University suggest a potentially new and harmful virus could be added to that list, passed from dogs to humans.

Previous flu research has typically neglected dogs according to Dr Daesub Song, who led a 10-year ‘flu’ study.  His team propose just as avian flu (which can pass between bird and other animals) can combine with human influenza viruses to create a new strain, pre-existing canine flu could follow a similar pattern.

Although it remains unclear as to whether dog flu would be deadly to animals, interspecies transmission of the canine influenza H3N2 virus to domestic cats was recorded in South Korea in 2010.  The researchers discovered, for the first time, that cats were susceptible to canine flu with 40% of the cat population held at a rescue shelter killed by the H3N2 virus.  This highlights how deadly the virus can be where individuals remain untreated or not treated correctly.

The researchers suggest a new strain of human flu could develop from canine flu where owners are up close and personal with their dogs: from cuddles to being licked or sneezed on.  A new strain of flu reassorting from canine and human flu could lead to a pandemic, as there would be no immunity to the new disease.

Various new influenza strains from animals have been recorded in recent decades.  During the early 2000s a deadly dog flu jumped from horses in the United States, whilst a strain of bird flu crossed over to dogs and developed into canine flu which raged in Southeast Asia.  Typical signs of canine flu include respiratory disease (congestion, breathing difficulties, coughing), runny eyes, sneezing, lethargy, and appetite loss.

As a result of this long-term study, Dr Song has called for closer monitoring of dogs and other companion animals as a source of novel human influenza strains.

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