Distemper closes animal shelter temporarily
By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 13, 2012 1:46 PM
An outbreak of canine distemper, a fatal and highly contagious viral disease, is forcing the closure of the Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center for the next several weeks.
The center's staff has traced the outbreak to eight puppies that were brought into the shelter earlier in the week.
Canine distemper attacks a dog's tonsils and lymph nodes and then the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It does not affect cats. There is no known cure. Newborn puppies are especially susceptible to the disease.
Dogs currently at the shelter that exhibit symptoms of distemper will have to be euthanized, but healthy dogs will not be euthanized.
"The puppies were brought in earlier this week as a surrender and it was discovered later that they had distemper," said county spokesman Barbara Arntsen. "At this point, the only dogs euthanized because of the distemper outbreak were the puppies brought in earlier in the week. There were eight puppies brought in -- three died from distemper and five were euthanized."
Staff at the center follow strict protocols to minimize potential outbreaks, including administering distemper vaccinations upon intake, said Animal Control Director Vicki Falconer. However, if an animal is already infected but is not exhibiting symptoms, a vaccination is not effective, she said.
Over the next three weeks no dogs will be accepted from pet owners and no adoptions from the center will be made. However, staff will continue to pick up strays.
"We have designated an area at the shelter for strays picked up over the next few weeks," Ms. Arntsen said. "The area has been decontaminated and the animals will not come in contact with the other dogs currently at the shelter."
Mrs. Falconer said the staff at the center has been working closely with local veterinarians to determine the scope of the infection and the best way to manage the outbreak.
"We don't want to take any chances with this spreading," she said "That's why we decided to close the shelter for the next few weeks. We will spend the time cleaning the building and scrubbing the porous surfaces every day."
The disease spreads through aerosol droplets and through contact with infected bodily fluids including nasal and ocular secretions, feces and urine from six to 22 days after exposure, she said. It can also be spread by food and water contaminated with these fluids. The virus is destroyed in the environment by routine cleaning with disinfectants, detergents, or drying. It does not survive in the environment for more than a few hours at room temperature, but can survive for a few weeks in shady environments.
Distemper can be avoided if animals are vaccinated, but across the United States it continues to be a problem -- mainly in rural areas, Mrs. Falconer said. According to the U.S. Humane Society, outbreaks of canine distemper are caused by the overpopulation of dogs and the irresponsibility of pet owners.
"Not only are we always telling people the importance of vaccinations, we are also stressing the need for spaying and neutering your pets."
While closed, the county will upgrade the air filtration system and deep-clean the building. In addition, the gasification system (crematorium) budgeted for replacement later this summer may also be installed.