The New Strain of Parvo Virus: Is there more cause to worry?
So, there is a lot of buzz concerning the new strain of Parvo virus, strain 2c. It is a newer mutation of the original Parvo 2 virus that originally showed up in the 70s. Viruses have a tendency to mutate and change naturally over time and exposure to new populations. In fact, every time any virus makes its way around the globe once it usually picks up some “new tricks” along the way. We see this quite regularly in the Influenza virus, common cause of the flu; this is why flu shots have to be constantly “tweaked” in assuring their effectiveness each and every year.
Is this virus bigger and badder than any parvo virus before it? Yes and no. It seems to treat all unvaccinated dogs the same – they get it. It’s very contagious and can survive in the environment for months. It still causes that dreaded vomiting and bloody diarrhea that so frequently kills its victims, especially the young puppies under 12 weeks of age. Experts think that it may have some increased virulence; that is, there are no specific breeds or age groups that seem to be attacked more than others. That’s right! Any dog at any age can get it if they have not been vaccinated. Doberman pincers and Rottweilers are more susceptible to parvo virus, no matter what the strain may be. These breeds must be vaccinated every year to keep their immunity up.
How might my dog be exposed to parvo virus? If your dog goes to a boarding facility, spends time at a grooming facility, visits a public park or dog park, they will be at risk. Particular hot spots of infection tend to be shelters, rescue groups and their foster dogs (as they often have dogs that have just come out of shelters), and local pet food stores. Pet food centers are often overlooked as contagious centers. Think about it… haven’t you noticed dog urine on the floor at the local Feed and Seed? Even though such locations strive to keep their facilities sanitary, parvo is so difficult to disinfect and remains stable for so long that the risk of the virus lurking is highly probable. Likewise, if you have spent time at a shelter looking to adopt a puppy or kitten, please make sure that you disinfect your clothing and shoes and thoroughly wash your hands before you handle a young, unvaccinated puppy at home! A client recently lost their dog to Parvo virus in just such a way; they believed that the dog was completely vaccinated when it had not had its entire series of puppy vaccines.
How do I protect my dog from this strain of parvo? Do the existing vaccines work? Regular vaccination is the best way to protect your dog from the disease. The vaccines that we use, here, at Middlebrook Animal Clinic are effective. Also, the vaccines that our clinic used even 3 years ago have found to be effective.
Why does my puppy have to have 3 and 4 rounds of Distemper/Parvo boosters? Shouldn’t just one vaccination be enough? We start vaccinating puppies as early as possible so that they are not left unprotected. One can never be too sure how much mother’s milk helps the pups out. Experts are now saying that in addition to early vaccination (as young as 6 weeks), puppies should continue their vaccine series to include at least one parvo booster as late as 14 to 16 weeks of age regardless of the number of prior vaccines. So why do they need to get it so much? The antibodies found in Momma’s first milk start to wear off somewhere around 4 to 6 weeks of age (why we like to start vaccines then) but they aren’t all completely gone until 13 or 14 weeks of age. This is crucial because these same antibodies can prevent the vaccination from working. So it is possible that the vaccine won’t completely be able to protect your puppy until they are vaccinated at 15 to 16 weeks of age.
So why even vaccinate a puppy when they are less than 15 or 16 weeks? We don’t know WHEN Momma’s “protection” will wear off – it could happen at 5 weeks or it could carry through to 14 weeks of age. Either way, you don’t want your puppy to be “sitting duck” once it does wear off.
What do Parvo virus symptoms look like in a dog? In the early stages, the puppy may be listless, depressed and stop eating. Later, they may develop a fever. Soon, the vomiting and diarrhea starts. The diarrhea may be bloody or yellowish colored; a key difference about Parvo virus Strain 2c is that the diarrhea does not necessarily need to be bloody. If you note any of these signs in your puppy, you need to seek veterinary care for them, IMMEDIATELY! Incubation time (that is the time between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms) can be 3 to 5 days. This is how the newly adopted puppy can go from seemingly healthy and bouncing around to deathly ill in so short of a time period.
Ok, I think that my dog may have Parvo. How do I disinfect my house? Parvo is very stable in the environment and very few things kill it. One of the few disinfectants known to work is a 1:32 mix of bleach and water. That equates to about 2 TBSP of bleach to 1 quart of water. Spray it on every surface or object that the dog touched and every surface or object that YOU touched after handling the suspected dog. You will want to make sure that the items are clean of dirt and grime before disinfecting as this can prevent the bleach solution from being effective. Spray it on, let it sit for 10 minutes and then rinse with water. Once you start thinking about all the things that could be contaminated, you will quickly realize why shelters have such an enormous task to keep their facilities clean of it. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good ways to clean carpet and upholstery unless you don’t mind them being bleached out. The yard is also equally difficult. Parvo has been shown to be stable in soil for up to a year!
If my dog gets Parvo virus, what is the likelihood that it will survive the infection? Even with swift and aggressive treatment, survival is 50/50. Parvo attacks the cells that line the digestive system, white blood cells (infection fighting cells) and sometimes myocardial cells (cells that make up heart tissue). The vomiting and diarrhea that results from the death of digestive cells causes the dog to become dangerously dehydrated. Even if this is carefully controlled with aggressive intravenous fluid support, the dog is very vulnerable to severe infections as its immune system is exhausted. Furthermore, there is very little that can be done to counter the virus’ attack upon the heart muscle. In spite of this, survival is MUCH BETTER with medical support than without it.