Internet hypes "new" strain of Parvovirus

What started last week as a well-intentioned press release from a Michigan animal shelter is rapidly developing into a full-blown case of internet hysteria in the dog-owning community.  This press release has morphed into an email containing a numer of inaccuracies and describing an “extremely fatal,” new variant of canine parvovirus.  Many of you will likely find a forwarded message about this topic in your inbox during the next couple weeks.  Rest assured that the information contained in the email is not completely accurate; in fact, the Humane Society of Kent County, with the guidance of the West Michigan Academy of Small Animal Practitioners yesterday realeased a second press release refuting much of the misinformation being spread via the internet.

Thank you to Susan Luffey, owner of Pampered Pets and Plants, for bringing the local arrival of this “news” to our attention.  The email she received reads in part:

Permission to cross post !

Date: August 20, 2008
Re: Please Read!!!!!! New Parvo Strain Hits West Michigan

Parvo 2c has been suspected as the cause of death for at least three adult canines in Kent county and surrounding areas. Two of the three dogs had a known previous vaccine history and tested positive on the Idexx Snap Parvo Test. The most current information on Parvo 2c from the vaccine/shelter medicine specialists around the country is as follows:

Disease: Parvo 2c is a highly virulent strain of the parvo virus that is extremely fatal in puppies and adult dogs. This strain of parvo attacks the circulatory organs approximately 24 hours before attacking the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, by the time a dog is presented for lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea it is generally too late.Diagnosis: Parvo 2c is detectable on the Idexx Snap Test, but it has been showing as a weak positive on many tests. Viral isolation is the best way to confirm the diagnosis, but it is not going to assist with diagnosis upon presentation.

Treatment: Conservative treatment with supportive care has been rarely successful. Plasma transfusions from recovered dogs have shown to yield the best treatment success at around 64% survival rate.

The remainder of this email contains both misleading and patently false information. I have omitted it here to avoid contributing to the fear this email is creating.  The  most important facts provided by the West Michigan Academy of Small Animal Practitioners are:

  • Parvoviral infection has been prevalent in the canine population since the early 1980s. This disease causes severe vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to life threatening dehydration. Dogs that contract this infection and are not properly treated will usually die from canine parvoviral infection.
  • Currently, it appears that properly immunized dogs are protected from the C2 strain of parvovirus by all vaccines currently being used by veterinarians (provided proper vaccination protocols are followed).  It is imperative that dogs be properly immunized in order to have the best chance of protection from all forms of parvovirus. 
  • Unvaccinated puppies and unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated adults dogs are at greatest risk for parvovirus and should be seen by their veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Parvovirus is a very serious and robust virus and can survive for years in the environment. Consult with your veterinarian for specifics about cleaning and disinfection of the environment if your pet has been exposed to parvovirus.
  • Your veterinarian is the best source of information regarding pet health and prevention of communicable disease.

Finally, while parvoviral infection can be devastating, our personal experience in treating hundreds of cases (including five years of employment at a 24-hour critical care hospital) does not support the grim prognosis described in this email.   Yes, some dogs infected with parvovirus die despite receiving the best care available.  However, with optimal care, the survival rate is typically 90% or better; cases in which less intensive care is provided have a poorer prognosis, but it is often better than 50-50.  The overall prognosis depends in large part on the severity and duration of signs when treatment begins.  If your dog is demonstrating signs of vomiting, diarrhea (with or without blood), lethargy and lack of appetite, seek the help of your veterinarian without delay.

Priority Pet Hospital is happy to help you with any questions you may have about this, or any other pet-related topic you may be interested in.  Educating pet owners is one of the most important services we provide.