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Virus linked to illness that has sickened several Ohio dogs

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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A mysterious illness that has killed one local dog and sickened several others has been linked to a virus that killed several dogs in California in the spring.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is expected to release additional information Monday confirming that early test results indicate the virus found in the tissue of the dead dog is consistent with circovirus, a disease more commonly seen in pigs.

Dr. Craig Sarver, a veterinary diagnostician at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health, confirmed late Thursday that circovirus, responsible for the deaths of several dogs in California, was found in fecal samples submitted from sick dogs in the Canal Fulton area last month.

Doctors studying the virus aren’t sure how the virus is spread, but have suggested one way might be through an infected dog’s stool.

“[Dr. Sarver] told me that the circovirus is not shed in the stool of sick dogs for more than a few days; that is the current understanding,” said Dr. Melanie Butera, who was the first local veterinarian to report the illness to the state agriculture department. “This makes it less likely to be transmitted dog to dog unless the dog is in contact with a sick one at that time. Sick dogs are unlikely to be at the dog park.”

Furthermore, the virus has been found in stool samples from healthy dogs, indicating there are dogs naturally immune and perhaps genetically protected from the severe disease aspect, she said.

“This also makes it less likely that we would see an epidemic like they saw with parvo in the 1970s,” Butera said.

Butera said there has been no confirmation on what killed the dogs in Cincinnati last month or whether it also can be attributed to the virus.

Erica Hawkins, communications director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, told a Cincinnati television station last week that research shows that a circovirus affecting pigs and the canine variation might be closely related.

“If positive, [canine circovirus] would be the first confirmation in the state,” Hawkins told WCPO.

Tests are lengthy

Ohio State University is conducting tests on tissue samples from the Cincinnati dogs.

Butera is cautioning dog owners to wait until all the test results are reported.

“Please understand, though, in microbiology in order for them to say it is definitely the cause of the disease, they have to introduce the agent into a healthy dog and cause the disease. … But isolating a new agent in suspicious cases is the first step, and then the research will follow from there,” she said Friday.

Dr. Jill Brown, a veterinarian at Village Animal Clinic in Columbus, said she hasn’t seen any cases at her practice. Nonetheless, she began warning clients last week through the practice’s Facebook page to be on the lookout for symptoms of the illness.

“I just wanted to inform my patients that it is out there and to get help for their animals right away if they notice anything wrong,” Brown said Friday.

She said State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshy, of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, advised her Friday that while researchers found circovirus in the samples they tested from Ohio, they were still doing research and were not ready to commit that it is the cause of death in the Ohio dogs.

“There are no vaccines for this yet, so I want to let people know how important it is that dogs get treatment right away,” Brown said.

New to dogs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in the online Emerging Disease Journal that pathologists at the University of California-Davis discovered the virus, normally associated with pigs (porcine circovirus), in dogs in April.

“The detection of a circovirus in tissues of dogs expands the known tropism of these viruses to a second mammalian host. Our results indicate that circovirus, alone or in co-infection with other pathogens, might contribute to illness and death in dogs,” the report stated.

Before 2012, the only
circocviruses reported that had infected mammals were two closely related porcine circoviruses that have been reported worldwide in pigs.

The report, titled “Circovirus in Tissues of Dogs with Vasculitis and Hemorrhage,” which details the study, can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/4/12-1390_article.htm.

Not an epidemic

On Friday, Butera said state officials requested that she refrain from talking publicly about the issue until a definite determination is made. She then pulled earlier warnings to her patients from Elm Ridge’s Facebook page.

State officials do not want to cause a panic, she said.

“This does not seem to be an out-of-control epidemic, but just seems to be sporadic cases here and there, and we do not yet know if these are even related, let alone have anything to do with this virus,” Butera cautioned.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.


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