Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Dogs Could Unleash the Next Flu Pandemic

That follows the first identified case of a flu virus passing from a horse to a dog, fifteen years ago.

Researchers also found there are now diverse strains of the flu in dogs.

The team of researchers - who are based at the Center for Research on Influenza Pathogenesis Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY - sequenced the genomes of 16 influenza viruses that were sampled from 800 dogs in Southern China between 2013 and 2015.

"The diversity [of flu] in dogs has increased so much now that the type of combinations of [flu] viruses that can be created in dogs represent potential risk for a virus to jump [from] a dog into a human", study co-author Adolfo García-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NY, said in a statement.

Influenza can jump among animal reservoirs where many different strains are located and these reservoirs serve as mixing bowls for the genetic diversity of strains, according to the researchers. Even with the possibility that humans might be immune, the investigators concluded that the continued expansion of influenza A virus diversity in dogs combined with high human contact rates requires enhanced surveillance and ongoing evaluation of emerging pandemic threats. With no prior exposure to the virus, most people do not have immunity to these viruses.

The investigators explained that although wild aquatic birds are now considered the primary natural reservoir host for influenza A viruses, mammals have emerged as critically underrecognized sources of influenza virus diversity.

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"The majority of pandemics have been associated with pigs as an intermediate host between avian viruses and human hosts". These newly found variants are H1N1, but unlike the H1N1 swine flu, these have hopped from birds to pigs to dogs, ultimately creating new versions. "This is very reminiscent of what happened in swine ten years before the H1N1 pandemic". They also found three new canine influenza viruses (CIVs) that were created after swine flu viruses mixed with dog flu viruses. The researchers called these viruses "CIV-H1N1r", "CIV-H3N2r" and "CIV-H1N2r", (with "r" standing for "reassortant").

Scientists were able to study viruses by collecting them from dogs taken to veterinary clinics suffering from respiratory symptoms.

As such, the authors recommend that future studies focus on further characterizing the virus and assessing whether humans have existing immunity.

"The diversity in dogs has increased so much now that the type of combinations of viruses that can be created in dogs represent potential risk for a virus to jump to a dog into a human". As the viruses mix and become more diverse, the chances increase that they could become capable of infecting humans.

"The spread of influenza viruses among dogs is risky in that their level of genetic diversity is nearly as high as among men".

"The United States is free of avian influenza because every time avian influenza has been detected in poultry in this country, the chickens or turkeys are culled and eliminated from circulation", Garcia-Sastre explained in a journal news release.

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