Trafficking in Deadly Diseases from Foreign “Rescues”
Our guest blog post today is from Nancy Melone, with additional information about the deadly diseases arriving with foreign "rescues." Thank you for this outstanding research Nancy!
Protecting North American Dogs from Imported Disease Pathogens: The Cases of Dog Flu and Distemper*
By Nancy Melone, PhD, ThornCreek Bernese, Reg’d. and Eendenkoi Kooikerhondjes
Abstract: Protecting dogs and people from imported disease pathogens is a difficult and never-ending task requiring international cooperation and continued vigilance. The recent cases of dog flu and distemper offer vivid examples of the costs, both financial and emotional, of failure to responsibly import animals. This article describes the obstacles to such protection and the process of tracking and identifying unknown pathogens using dog flu and distemper as examples.
Protecting companion animals in the US from infectious organisms brought in by imported companion animals is not easy. Unlike the importation of food animals (e.g., cattle, sheep) which is overseen by the US Department of Agriculture, there is no federal oversight over the importation of companion animals. The only requirement for dogs entering the US or Canada is a rabies certificate. As became terrifyingly clear when several dogs imported from India, Iran, and Egypt were found to be rabid despite being “vaccinated,” fake rabies certificates are easy to obtain in some countries. Absent federal oversight, Professor Edward Dubovi, Director of the Virology Laboratory at Cornell University’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center, says, “It’s a 50-state free-for-all with regard to [importing] companion animals. It’s a very unsatisfactory situation if you’re trying to control infectious diseases in our domestic cats and dogs.”
The advent and popularity of international dog rescue and increased international and interstate trafficking of dogs has ushered in a new set of animal and human health concerns among infectious disease specialists, veterinarians, physicians, and epidemiologists as well as pet owners and breeders. Companion animals, in particular the family dog, are often seen as sentinels for known and unknown diseases in humans. They are the proverbial canary in the mineshaft. When dogs are imported from around the globe, they can become vectors of diseases that have never been seen in North America. Even diseases that have been eradicated and not seen in the US for decades may pose problems because of drug resistance. Many imported animals, particularly those rescued from underdeveloped or poor nations, enter North America with inadequate veterinary screening, veterinary care, or the benefit of basic vaccination protocols typical of dogs living in the US or Canada. In countries where dogs are raised for meat and regulation of antibiotics is poor, the risk of importing antibiotic-resistant pathogens is very high. Other factors further amplify disease risk, including, but not limited to, international rescue organizations who fail to develop and follow proper quarantine, disinfection and vaccination protocols. However well-intentioned, these rescue efforts put North American dogs at risk of foreign strains of potentially drug-resistant or unknown disease. Diagnosis of sick dogs becomes even more complicated in the case of unknown diseases, because if you have never seen or do not know what you are looking for, it is often hard to find it and when you do, it is often too late. To the extent imported dogs bring in unknown pathogens that are communicable to humans breeders, dog owners, rescuers, veterinarians, and adopters and their extended families are at potential risk.
The Case of Dog Flu
As many dog owners may recall, a primary focus in the last decade was the containment of two strains (H3N8 and H3N2) of the Canine Influenza Virus (CIV). So-called “dog flu” was unknown in the US until a mysterious illness struck racing greyhounds in Flo...