5 more dogs test positive for canine influenza in Canada

Five dogs in Canada that came into contact with two others with H3N2 canine influenza have also tested positive.

The dogs were exposed to the 2 originally confirmed cases

Officials say the first two dogs that were infected with the canine flu were imported from South Korea, through the U.S. (Reuters)

Five dogs in Canada that came into contact with two others infected with a strain of canine influenza have tested positive for the highly contagious disease, according to health officials in the Windsor, Ont. area 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) in southwestern Ontario said the five dogs — and others that may have been exposed — have been quarantined by their owners to help prevent further spread of the virus.

"All of these dogs were in a foster home, the same foster home, and that's how they came in close contact with each other," explained Dr. Wajid Ahmed, acting medical officer of health for the WECHU.

He added the infection was passed on by two dogs imported from South Korea coughing, sneezing and licking the other animals, which were from Windsor-Essex.

The health unit is working to ensure the flu does not spread beyond the foster home.

"The hope is these dogs should be the end of it," said Ahmed. "The hope is these dogs didn't mix with with other dogs and there shouldn't be any potential for further spread in the community."

The contagious flu has spread rapidly across Asia and parts of the U.S.

The health unit said this flu is highly contagious between dogs, particularly in Canada, where the animals do not have natural immunity from previous infection and  canine influenza vaccination is rare.

The health unit said there is no known human risk, but officials are worried that a dog infected with H3N2 could also contract a human flu, and those strains could combine to create a new virus.

"It's pretty unlikely to happen, but that's the main public health concern," Scott Weese, a professor and infectious disease specialist at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, told CBC News when the first outbreak was reported.

Distinguishing the canine flu is difficult in dogs, said Weese, because the symptoms are similar to other respiratory infections like kennel cough.

"It's a flu-like illness. It gives them fever, they feel pretty run down, they get a cough which is often the most remarkable sign. In most dogs that's it. It runs its course," said Weese. 

But like the flu, it could cause complications for older dogs or canines with existing health problems.