Distemper strikes

Leaders issue outbreaks warning, cite seasonal cases

Published: May 18, 2009
By Jennifer Fiala

Reports of distemper outbreaks in shelters have prompted organized veterinary medicine to go on the defensive, issuing a warning to owners to get their dogs vaccinated. 

In a statement, the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association (ISVMA) revealed that "a number" of canine distemper cases have been identified, although officials did not elaborate on case totals or where they took place.

It is also unclear whether canine distemper reports have increased compared to previous years. ISVMA President Dr. Sheldon Rubin says the warning originated with the state veterinarian's office, which revealed that shelters south of Chicago are reporting a "larger than normal number" of distemper cases. He and other officials believe that the economic recession has translated to cutbacks on routine pet care, including distemper vaccinations. 

"We want to remind owners how important vaccinations are," Rubin says. "This is an extremely contagious virus. ... It would behoove everyone to make sure their clients are on an appropriate vaccination schedule."

Apart from Illinois, canine distemper appears to have stricken other areas of the United States. On May 4, the Pima Animal Care Center in Tuscan, Ariz., revealed a rise in wildlife cases of rabies and distemper outbreaks at the shelter, which is affiliated with the county health department. 

The Brunswick County Animal Shelter near Wilmington, N.C., reopened its adoption program on May 5 after shutting down for more than a month when a canine distemper outbreak resulted in the euthanasia of 17 sickly animals, a local news report says. 

And in late April, Brevard County Animal Services near Florida's east coast was trying to quarantine dogs to shut down a distemper outbreak at North Animal Care Center in Titusville after University of Florida veterinarians identified 19 distemper-positive dogs and euthanized 17 of them, according to the media Web site Florida Today

Unlike rabies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not track canine distemper cases. In Illinois, officials have not identified whether the strains currently spreading are related to a deadly version that cropped up in 2004 and 2005 in the Chicago area, believed to have come from a raccoon. 

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