Rise in Dogs Flu Strains Could Pose a Threat to Next Human Pandemic, Scientists Warn
Dogs: The Next Source of a Flu Pandemic

Until now we have heard about swine flu and dog flu which have wreaked havoc in the past, infecting and killing thousands of people worldwide. However, scientists are now concerned about dog flu or canine influenza. Yes, that’s right. Unfortunately, man’s best friend, dogs are also susceptible to influenza viruses.

A respiratory disease, dog flu occurs due to specific Type A flu viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The H3N8 virus and the H3N2 virus are the two types of influenza A dog flu viruses.

According to a study published in mBio, dogs can be infected with multiple strains of viruses, especially viruses from pigs, which are a known reservoir of influenza viruses capable of potentially infecting humans. The study also found that the flu strains infecting dogs is becoming more diverse in a pattern similar to the events that led to the outbreak of swine flu globally.

“We now have H1N1, H3N2, and H3N8 in dogs,” Dr. Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute, says. “They are starting to interact with each other. This is very reminiscent of what happened in swine ten years before the H1N1 pandemic.”

While conducting the study, the researchers analyzed the genomes of 16 influenza viruses sampled from 800 dogs in China’s southern Guangxi region between 2013 and 2015. They found that the dogs had various swine H1N1 flu viruses. They also discovered that some of these swine viruses had circulated in humans and pigs in Europe and Asia in the past, and some are strains of bird flu that have infected pigs.

“What we have found is another set of viruses that come from swine that are originally avian in origin, and now they are jumping into dogs and have been reassorted with other viruses in dogs,” said Garcia-Sastre.

Well, the question now is if the mix of flu strains that develops in dogs can harm humans. As the viruses combine and become more varied, their chances of infecting humans also increase. The pig flu viruses can mix with dog flu viruses, thereby producing new flu viruses. The viruses change in a way that makes them capable of infecting humans and spreading easily. For this reason, the research team is calling out for measures to be taken to control the spread of flu viruses between dogs. The authors of the study suggested that governments should make efforts for controlling the spread of flu in dogs.

Another factor to think about is that for a pandemic to take place, the flu strain that passes from dogs to humans would also have to be easily transmissible between humans.

“If there is a lot of immunity against these viruses, they will represent less of a risk, but we now have one more host in which influenza virus is starting to have a diverse genotypic and phenotypic characteristic creating diversity in a host which is in very close contact to humans,” says García-Sastre.