Animal samples tested for parvovirus at Michigan State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory have come back positive, said Kim Dodd, the lab’s director.
“We know we’re looking at a canine parvovirus,” she said Tuesday.
The concern was sparked by reports this month that dogs died within three days of developing parvovirus symptoms, including vomiting and bloody stools, but tested negative for the condition. Melissa FitzGerald, director of Otsego County Animal Shelter in northern Michigan, said most dogs with the disease seen by the shelter were younger than 2 years of age, and cases have been found in northern and central parts of the United States. the state.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said on Tuesday it had received anecdotal reports of 15 to 25 infections but did not have an exact count because residents are not required to report the disease to the state. FitzGerald said she was aware of at least 20 deaths from the virus in her county.
The discrepancy between dogs that test negative in veterinary clinics or animal shelters, but positive in the university lab, may be due to the type of test used, Dodd said. The lab uses very accurate PCR tests, while shelters and clinics tend to use less sensitive rapid tests.
Rapid tests are particularly prone to false negatives late in an infection, when many of the animals were tested, Dodd said. But she said veterinary officials would continue to test the samples to find out if something specific about this strain of the virus could make the rapid tests less effective.
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Scott Weese, a professor at Ontario Veterinary College, said some negative tests may also occur because not every dog has the same disease. But he said he suspects the outbreak as a whole is due to a known parvovirus strain.
“Usually when we see situations like this, it’s just our normal suspects doing their normal things or doing something else,” he said. “But it’s usually not something completely new.”
Canine parvovirus is highly contagious in dogs and can be fatal. But there are several effective vaccines that vets typically administer, starting when a puppy is a few weeks old. Dodd said the dogs that have tested positive in the lab so far had no clear vaccination history against parvovirus, including regular boosters.
State officials urged dog owners to keep up with vaccinations and ensure that puppies are fully immunized before coming into contact with other animals. Dogs’ hair and feet can transmit the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Owners should also clean up after their pets have been on walks — contaminated feces can spread disease — and keep dogs at home and contact their vet if the canines show signs of illness, officials said. Canine parvovirus is not contagious to other animals or to humans.
Whether they live in or outside of Michigan, Dodd said, dog owners should consider this outbreak as a reminder to keep their dogs up to date on their vaccinations.
“We don’t want people to panic about this,” she said. “Parvovirus is something we regularly see in unvaccinated dogs.”