We Just Can’t Put The Canine Distemper Virus To Bed In Mississippi

For years now, we have had pockets of canine distemper outbreaks in dogs, raccoons and foxes in our region.  These outbreaks at first scare our local residents, because these disoriented animals are at first rabies suspects.  What people are observing is what veterinarians refer to as the “neurological” stage of the disease progression, when distemper virus has unfortunately reached the point of no return.

Dog Jack Russell Terrier and a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever lying on grass

Just this past week, the Mississippi Board of Animal Health put out a bulletin to Mississippi veterinarians that canine distemper virus is on the rise, not only in 2017, but reportedly on the increase in reported cases each year since 2013.

In 2013, 18 suspected cases were submitted to the state diagnostic laboratory for testing.  Fortunately, only six of the submissions turned out to be positive while 12 were negative.  By 2015, 67 total suspected cases were submitted, and although 42 were negative, 23 were positive.  In 2016, there were 30 positive cases, and this year already, there have been 46 confirmed cases of canine distemper-and we’re not even to the halfway point yet.

Canine distemper is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and eventually the nervous systems of the animals affected.  There is no reliable cure once the symptoms are manifested in the nervous system.

The Mississippi Board of Animal Health has the following recommendations for Mississippians regarding animal care and handling during this spike in canine distemper virus cases:

-Make sure all puppies and adult dogs are current on their distemper vaccination.

-Any suspected case in a dog should be seen immediately by a veterinarian (cats are exempt, luckily).

-Please do not handle wildlife, especially those animals that might not be acting normal.  It is unfortunate, but despite the name of canine distemper virus, other animals that might be in contact, like wolves, coyotes, foxes and raccoons can be affected by the virus.  Possums, armadillos and squirrels are not thought to be affected as much, if at all by it.

-If anyone is bitten by an animal that has these types of disorientation from neurological disease, please contact your local health care provider immediately.

-Do not shoot neurological animals in the head, because that is the tissue used for viral testing.

-For further information or questions, call the Mississippi Board of Animal Health at (601)-359-1170.

As for our surveillance locally, I’ll keep our readership posted in upcoming columns.  In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the outdoors this summer.  Everybody stay safe!

Dr. Chris Duke

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