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Spike in Parvo virus cases points to a reoccurring problem in the Peace

Dawson Creek the latest to experience chronic outbreak
The Parvo Virus can be fatal in dogs but is not transferrable to humans or cats. Puppies are most at risk.

A sometimes fatal virus that eats away at the lining of a dog's intestine and can result in blood poisoning and death, is cropping up again among puppies in the Peace Region.

The Parvo virus is a reoccurring problem in the area, according to Dr. Trevor Reeves at the South Peace Animal Hospital. 

Two pet clinics in Dawson Creek have had five confirmed cases in the last two weeks.

"It's a chronic problem here," Reeves said. "There is a reservoir of unvaccinated dogs and it sort of cycles through them."

The virus stops the regeneration of new cells in the intestine, making it impossible to absorb food or water. It results in vomiting and diarrhea causing severe dehydration. Bacteria can also seep through the damaged lining of the intestine and into the blood stream causing bacteremia (bacteria in the blood) or in severe cases, septicaemia (blood poisoning).

"It's always in the environment," Kelsey Dawley, a Veterinary assistant at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic said. "It's one of the most common viruses that dogs can pick up, but it's also really easy to prevent with vaccines."

Dr. Zoe Ross at the Dawson Creek Veterinary Clinic said while Parvo cases trickle in throughout the year, every now and then there will be a spike like what the city has experienced in recent weeks. 

Ross says wild canines like wolves, foxes and coyotes can carry and spread the virus. 

"If (an infected dog or wild canine) vomited or had diarrhea, and if a dog or human steps in that area they can pick it up (and spread it)," she said. 

Parvo virus can also live in the soil for up to two years. Puppies are most at risk. 

"It debilitates them quite severely because… their immune systems aren't quite up to speed," Reeves said. "Whenever there are litters of puppies around and the mother has not been vaccinated, the puppies are susceptible." 

The virus is not transmutable to humans or cats.

In the worst cases causing blood poisoning, the virus can be fatal. There is no treatment to kill the Parvo once it infects the dog. However, most dogs do recover if aggressive treatment is started before the bacteria spreads to the blood stream. 

For reasons that are not completely known, some breeds like the Rottweiler, Doberman pinscher and English springer spaniel have a much higher fatality rate than other breeds.

Reeves said variants of the virus that effect a dog's heart, leading to rapid onset heart failure, have been documented in Dawson Creek in the past.

But, "primarily what we see right now is the vomiting and diarrhea form," he said. "We're just running into that season where we are going to have quite a few cases and it does seem to come in waves sometimes."

While Parvo cases can crop up anywhere right across the country, the situation in the Peace is a bit different some vets say. 

"Talking to other veterinarians it does seem like we see more of it in this area than others," Ross said. "I'm not sure why."

About two and a half years ago, the Peace Region-based On Our Way Home Animal Rescue Society had 15 puppies from the Moberly Lake area infected with the virus. They lost five, but were able to save 10. 

"Every day there was another one or two puppies showing symptoms," former president of the society Alyssa Bond said. "Parvo, if you don't properly quarantine it's so easy to spread. Walking out of your contaminated house to go downtown — you're contaminating everything."

Bond, Ross, Reeves and Dawley all said the only real way to prevent the problem is to have your dog vaccinated. 

Reeves said the first shot is about $68, while the booster is around $35.

"That might seem like a lot," Bond said. "But compared to the thousands of dollars it can cost to treat the disease, it's the cheaper option."