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Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Center isolates and serves as only testing ground for new and sometimes deadly dog influenza virus

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 26, 2005

ITHACA, N.Y. - Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center isolated a new and highly contagious canine influenza virus and serves as the only laboratory currently conducting routine tests for the virus for the general veterinary community.

Led by Dr. Edward Dubovi, director of the virology center at the Cornell lab, this effort began when an unusual illness began to appear in Florida greyhound kennels over the past 2-3 years. Ultimately, Cornell virologists working with the researchers at the University of Florida and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the dogs were stricken by a type of influenza that is ordinarily found only in horses. This was the first scientific report of an equine influenza virus that jumped the species barrier.

"From a public-health standpoint, it's always an alarming occurrence when a virus leaps to another species, particularly into a domesticated species, as this is generally a sign of the virus's strength and ability to adapt," says Dubovi.

While no known cases of human infection by this virus have been identified, Dubovi and his colleagues at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine are keeping a close watch on this possibility and any signs that this virus may be harmful in any way to humans."

For dog owners, Dubovi offers this advice: "To the extent possible, dogs should be kept separated from those in other households, and a veterinarian should be consulted if a dog develops a cough or other evidence of respiratory disease. Until a reliable canine vaccine is available, veterinarians and dog owners will be working to contain the disease."

As his team works with others to learn more about the virus and to develop an effective vaccine, Dubovi sees a potential for this latest issue to help address a more fundamental research problem related animals and public health.

"As populations get denser and domestic animals mix with each other and with wildlife, we have to be aware that disease-causing agents can jump species," says Dubovi. "Therefore the way public health officials monitor the transmission of disease from one species to another must be re-examined closely." Dubovi says that the current monitoring tactic is targeted surveillance or ruling out a specific disease in an afflicted animal rather than seeking out what the animal has. Dubovi sees the need to set up a surveillance system for companion animals so that "if there is a new and emerging disease coming out we can spot it . proactively."

Donald F. Smith, Cornell's Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine agrees, "As the lives of animals and humans continue to converge, we need to develop more proactive public policies related to disease surveillance. This is especially true for those infectious agents for which there is a potential that there may be significant public health concerns. We're not just talking about the health of our beloved pets anymore."