Wednesday, May 03, 2017

City Finally Informs Public of Deadly Distemper Outbreak


Public health requires effective surveillance for disease outbreaks and mobilization of resources to treat the ill, prevent exposure for those at risk and vaccinate the population.  This applies to animals as well as people.

The City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter is in the midst of a distemper outbreak.  Social media reports suggest distemper cases began weeks ago with a sick puppy being adopted out of the shelter.  Those same reports indicate local veterinarians knew of the outbreak as early as April 11th.  This information was not shared with the Animal Services Advisory Committee on April 20th.

Concho Valley PAWS, the contractor for shelter adoptions, released a statement on April 30th about the outbreak (Source:  San Angelo Live)

Puppies and dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and mother dogs can pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies.
Local rescue Cassie's Place issued a warning about the distemper outbreak on April 29th at 6:15 am on their Facebook page.  Owners who read the warning were in a position to get their dog vaccinated against distemper.

All dogs are at risk but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper are at increased risk of acquiring the disease.
On May 3rd the City of San Angelo issue a press release regarding shelter closure due to distemper.

Initially, infected dogs will develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (“chewing gum fits”), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the footpads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease.”

Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.
Early notification is critical for dog owners to take appropriate action.

Canine distemper vaccine, one of the more effective vaccines, protects at least 90% of individuals to whom it is given.  Vaccination is crucial in preventing canine distemper.
Timely communication is important to save canine lives and prevent spread of a highly contagious, often fatal airborne disease.

The City delegated  communication to its adoption contractor.  Concho Valley PAWS does not operate the Animal Shelter.  After the problem became widely known in the animal service community the City finally issued its press release.

I trust the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will ask questions to understand the course of the outbreak and evaluate the effectiveness of the city's response.  Oversight is their role and a deadly disease outbreak requires review.    

Update 5-15-17:  The City Shelter is again taking in dogs.  Dog adoptions will restart next week.  The news release did not state how many shelter dogs came down with distemper, how many with the disease had been adopted out, the status of the distemper cases and what the city plans to do to make whole citizens harmed by adopting shelter pets with distemper symptoms. 

Update 5-18-17:   City staff reported they first learned of a shelter associated distemper case on 4-27-17.  The city's first communication occurred on 5-3-17, nearly a week later. 

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