Resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared the details about H3N8, otherwise known as canine influenza, with Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez on Wednesday.
According to Bell, there is a new vaccine available, which Bell called "a good thing, because no dog has natural immunity to this very contagious virus."
In 2004, a mysterious virus raced through greyhounds at Florida racetracks almost as fast as they could run. It caused coughing, high fever, runny noses, and in many cases, life-threatening pneumonia, she explained.
"It was disturbing because of the fact that so many dogs were sick and some were dying," said Dr. Cynda Crawford, veterinarian at the University of Florida's veterinary school.
Within six months, this devastating disease had spread to 14 tracks in six states. A year later, in 2005, the virus was still spreading. But finally, some answers. Crawford identified the bug.
"It is highly contagious," Crawford explained. "Virtually all dogs exposed to this virus will become infected."
Today, this highly contagious virus has been noted in 30 states, affecting thousands of dogs in shelters, boarding kennels, and doggy day care facilities.
The spread of the virus seems to have plateaued in many areas. However, four-to-five states are still seeing outbreaks: Florida, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, and there is an outbreak currently in Virginia, Bell pointed out.
"Is this anything like H1N1?" Rodriguez asked.
"Well, it's a type A, influenza, however it is not swine flu, as we like to call it the canine influenza, it's not contagious to humans so far as we know," Bell said. "There's no evidence that it can be given to people or other species.
"The mortality rate is about 5 percent. It's very similar to the human H1N1 in that generally it's mild, there's cough, nasal discharge, sometimes with a secondary bacterial infection, many recover from it except for those who go on to pneumonia."
Dr. Debbie Wohl, a veterinarian who practices in Valley Stream, N.Y., shared her experience with Rodriguez and Bell and administered the vaccine to her dog named, Harley.
"That is pretty much what we saw. Several years ago there was an outbreak in our area," Wohl said. "We think it came from a dog who used to go to a doggie day care center in the city. And because it's so contagious, quite a few dogs got ill from it. We saw a lot of dogs coughing, nasal discharge, fever, anywhere from mild to severe."
Although most of the dogs got over it in one or two weeks, some of the dogs did progress to pneumonia and in those cases they got very sick and one or two did pass away from it, Wohl explained.
According to Bell, since this is a virus that spreads in communal areas, dogs that go to kennels, doggie day cares, or grooming parlors should be vaccinated. She also added that people that work with animals should vaccinate their own animals as well.
The vaccine involves a series of two shots, with the second one following two to four weeks later.
"This is called a lifestyle vaccine," Bell said. "If you have a dog that's at home, stays in your yard and never comes in contact with other dogs, probably doesn't need this vaccine. But if you travel, go to kennels, this vaccine is for you."