Researchers have discovered that dogs may be “potential reservoirs” for future flu pandemics.
Live Sciences’ Rachael Rettner reported a new study that has found that influenza viruses from pigs can jump into dogs.
These are the same viruses that have previously transmitted dangerous strains of the flu to humans.
These canine flu viruses are also becoming increasingly diverse, making researchers and scientists concerned for human health.
Scientists are worried about these findings because of the way that animal viruses have spread to humans in the past.
According the Independent’s Alex Matthews King, influenza can jump between different animals, and the trouble for humans starts when flu strains exchange genes with other infectious diseases in the animal host.
Once these new strains pass to humans, who have not been previously exposed and thus have no immunity against them, the health consequences can be severe.
H1N1 (Swine Flu), which was the cause of a 2009 pandemic, originated in birds.
According to the American Society for Microbiology, an avian (bird) virus “jumped to pigs, exchanged some of its genes with previously circulating swine viruses and then jumped from pigs into humans.”
Scientists are now seeing this pattern again, except this time the viruses are jumping from pigs to dogs.
mBio published a recent study, in which researchers sequenced the genomes of 16 influenza viruses obtained from dogs in the Guangxi region of China.
These dogs are pets that had been brought to the vet after showing respiratory symptoms consistent with canine influenza.
There are two main types of canine influenzas; H3N8, which is transferred from horses to dogs, and H3N2, which is transferred from birds to dogs.
According to the CDC, these viruses have never been reported in humans.
The researchers, however, discovered that the sick dogs in China harbored two types of H1N1 swine flu viruses.
They also found three new canine influenza viruses, which resulted from the mixing of swine flu and canine flu strains.
Adolfo García-Sastre, study Co-Author and Director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, commented, “In our study, 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 re-assorted with other viruses in dogs. They are starting to interact with each other. This is very reminiscent of what happened in swine ten years before the H1N1 pandemic.”
There is some optimism to keep throughout this whole circumstance, as currently, no human has contracted canine flu.
Scientists still can’t determine if new strains of dog flu viruses would spread among humans if a person were to contract one in the future.
This study was also relatively localized; researchers are not certain that similar viral mixing is happening in dogs around the world.
Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham who was not involved with this research, tells the Independent’s Matthews-King, “What this study provides is evidence that dogs can be naturally infected with multiple strains of viruses, most notably viruses from pigs, which are a known reservoir of influenza viruses that can infect us…This increases the potential threat of dogs acting as mixing vessels for the production of new strains of virus that might, just might, in the future spill over into humans.”
Although the study authors acknowledge in their report that “further research is greatly needed to assess the pandemic risk [of flu viruses in dogs],” they also state that it is important to start thinking about how a dog flu pandemic would be managed if one were to break out.
One way to stay safe is to protect yourself from harmful germs that can spread influenza of any kind.
An alcohol-free hand sanitizer is recommended to be used multiple times a day as well as washing your hands frequently to fight off these viruses.