Bird Flu Crosses Species Barrier to Spread Among Dogs

Saturday, April 18, 2015
By Paul Martin
April 16, 2015

April 2 (Bloomberg) — A bird flu virus that killed dogs in South Korea can spread from one dog to another, showing that the disease is capable of crossing species and causing widespread sickness in mammals, a study found.

A cocker spaniel and a miniature schnauzer were among dozens of dogs in South Korea sickened by an H3N2 strain from birds, researchers said in a study published in the May issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. Viruses taken from the sick canines were used in an experiment later to see if pathogens were capable of spreading from dog to dog.

The findings add to scientific understanding of how flu viruses evolve in animals and the risks they pose to humans. A separate bird flu strain called H5N1 has killed 236 people worldwide by spreading primarily from birds to humans. If a deadly H5N1 strain evolved like the strain in today’s study to spread from one human to another, it could kill millions.

“Transmission of avian influenza A virus to a new mammalian species is of great concern because it potentially allows the virus to adapt to a new mammalian host, cross new species barriers, and acquire pandemic potential,” the Korean researchers said.

The study, led by Daesub Song, Bokyu Kang and Chulseung Lee of the Green Cross Veterinary Products Co. and Daewoong Pharmaceutical Co. at Yong-in, outside Seoul, followed cases of severe respiratory disease last year in dogs at three veterinary clinics in Kyunggi province.

Close Resemblance

Tests on specimens collected from three of the dogs showed they were infected with H3N2 viruses closely resembling those found in chickens and doves in South Korea in 2003. The pathogens may have been transmitted from birds to dogs fed raw, minced meat from infected ducks and chickens, the authors said.

“In South Korea, untreated duck and chicken meats, including internal organs and heads, have been widely used to feed dogs for fattening in local canine farms or kennels,” they said.

Dog is regarded by some Koreans as a delicacy. Seoul city officials will ask the national government to include the animal in the legal definition of livestock, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported last week.

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