Alaska Editorial: Parvo comes to Alaska’s interior

  • Monday, March 7, 2016 1:00am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

News that an outbreak of canine parvovirus has descended on Interior Alaska is highly concerning. It’s even worse that it’s here as dogs and mushers prepare for the Open North American Championships in Fairbanks and as local mushers get ready to head to Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, where close to a hundred dog teams will be congregated.

Interior Alaska, and the greater Fairbanks region in particular, always needs to be on guard against the highly contagious canine parvovirus and other canine illnesses. Our part of the state is well known for being home to thousands of sled dogs in addition to the number of regular pet dogs that live among us.

The importance of having your dogs vaccinated against parvovirus and other canine diseases can’t be overstated, yet there is no state law or Fairbanks North Star Borough ordinance requiring it. The only required vaccination of dogs is for rabies, a vaccination that can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian or a lay vaccinator certified by the state of Alaska.

Without a state or local statute, the responsibility for fighting parvovirus falls to the individual dog owner.

The current outbreak, one described by Alaska State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach as severe and in which several dogs have died, should be a call for action by dog owners.

Veterinarians can vaccinate your dogs against a variety of illnesses, but it’s also easy and affordable as a do-it-yourself job. A single one-time annual vaccine is available to guard against parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, adenovirus and parainfluenza and can be purchased locally.

Vaccinating your dogs — and any animals determined to be in need of protection — is responsible behavior not only toward your animal but also to those of your neighbors and beyond. The only way to prevent the spread of disease is to disrupt its flow, and the best way to do that is to vaccinate regularly.

Here are some points about canine parvovirus from The American Veterinary Medical Association:

• Some signs of parvovirus infection include lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature, vomiting, and severe and sometimes bloody diarrhea. “Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system can cause septic shock,” the association’s website reads.

• Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours following the onset of symptoms. A veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

• No drug exists that will kill the virus in infected dogs. The role of treatment is to support the dog’s body systems until the immune system can fight off the infection.

• Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels and other areas where infected dogs are or have been housed is essential. The virus is not easily killed. Consult a veterinarian for guidance on cleaning and disinfecting agents.

• Puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age regardless of how many doses have been given previously.

Humans can’t contract canine parvovirus but can carry it on their bodies and clothing, so washing hands and clothes after coming into contact with a dog known to have parvo is important, also.

This outbreak will pass, and we hope it does so with no further harm. In its wake, let’s hope there is a greater awareness of the need to inoculate our animals.

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