Watching for the Next Flu Pandemic

June 15, 2018

Scientists are working together across the globe to watch for, and to try and stay ahead of, the next global flu pandemic. They think they’ve found a likely source, too: man’s best friend. Humans and dogs not only live in close proximity with each other, making it easier for human flu strains to mix with dog flu strains, which have been mutating a lot recently.

Why is this news in the middle of spring/summer? Well, it gives us all a chance to stay ahead of a more serious flu strain spreading by taking good care of our pets health—don’t wait to take them to the vet if they are acting strange, like coughing, showing signs of lethargy, or showing sudden behavioral changes. It’s also because the Southern Hemisphere is having their flu season, which tends to predict ours—so now’s the time that experts take stock of what’s what.

Last year, dog flu in America was pretty wide spread, and lasted a few months longer than human’s own virulent flu season. What makes dogs a good reservoir for the next flu season (besides again, our close proximity to them, like getting face to face, sharing furniture, car rides, etc.), is that dog flu strains have become more diverse in recent years—that means more genes that could potentially come together to create a virulent strain that is airborne to humans. Recently, it was noted that swine flu has jumped to compatibility with dogs, and has been spreading in some canine populations.

There are two main types of dog flu (although there are other possibilities, like swine flu, as noted): H3N8, which spread from horses, and H3N2, which spread from birds.

When researchers talk about a flu pandemic, they’re talking about two strains coming together for the perfect storm: a virulent virus capable of infecting humans, and a virus that’s become airborne. When different flu strains come together, it becomes a watchspot for this possibility. In the past, spots where birds and mammals mix (like seagulls and seals/sea lions) have been watchspots, since bird flus and non-human mammal flus could have the right mix to create something nasty. This time, dogs already have both!

Here’s how you can help your pet: in addition to regular vet visits, be sure to get irregular symptoms checked out (sometimes you can call first and see if you need to come in—your vet may know if dog flu is already circulating in your area, for instance); make sure to give your dog the same regular health support you need, like nutritious meals and exercise. You can even go above and beyond and add a few drops of immune supporting colloidal silver to their water bowl (which also helps keep water fresh in hot summer months!).

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