11. Antivirus (09/2008)
Just when you thought it was safe to stop vaccinating your dog an old killer virus appears again. There have been a growing number of Distemper (hondesiekte) cases in Prince Albert this year. All affected dogs were unvaccinated and in each case the disease ended with the slow death of the animal.
Distemper is a contagious viral disease of dogs spread by contact, or through the air. Approximately a week after contracting the virus there is a fever and typical symptoms of lethargy, loss of appetite, and clear discharge from the nose. Symptoms progress to conjunctivitis with a sticky eye discharge, yellow nasal discharge, diarrhoea, and skin eruptions on the belly and between the hind legs. Later, the brain and nervous system is affected resulting in twitching facial muscles, in coordination, and death.
There is no effective treatment; although some animals may recover with good nursing. Supportive therapy includes fluids, vitamin C and proper nutrition.
The disease can, however, be prevented by vaccinating healthy susceptible animals. The vaccine is composed of a live attenuated strain of the virus. This means the vaccine virus has been modified so as not to cause the symptoms of disease, while stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies. Thus protecting the dog against future infection. Puppies and older dogs are most susceptible to distemper virus infection. Poor nutrition and unsuitable environmental conditions increase susceptibility.
To prevent distemper infection puppies are given a course of two vaccinations and adult dogs will develop 5-6 year immunity after a single vaccination.
Although vaccines are generally considered safe to use, there is debate about the efficacy and side effects of vaccinating against infectious diseases in both humans and animals. Some diseases are more effectively controlled by vaccines than others. Superior vaccine choices exist for the same disease. Individuals respond differently to the same vaccines: there are variations in immune response, adverse reactions may occur in some cases, and the potential for long term side effects must all be considered when vaccinating against disease. A veterinarian should be able to give advice based on individual circumstances.
The distemper vaccine is reliable and safe when used correctly. Immunity provided is generally considered to be very good, evident in vaccinated canine populations by low incidence or total eradication of the disease. So it makes sense to have your dog vaccinated against this often fatal viral disease particularly because the threat is greater here than in many other parts of the country. Distemper vaccine is commercially available only as part of a multivalent ‘5-in-1’ vaccine which includes four other infectious organisms: Parvovirus, Canine Hepatitis, Adenovirus, and Leptospirosis. It is also advisable to vaccinate against these organisms which can all cause fatal infections. Rabies vaccination is given separately and in this country provided by the state because of its high zoonotic (infectious to humans) potential.