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In 2009, during an outbreak in Beijing, some owners employed doggie-sized surgical masks to protect their pets. Photo: AP

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Let’s start with the slightly better news about this highly contagious strain of dog flu: With proper treatment, it is NOT typically fatal, nor is it contagious to humans.

That said, the flu first appeared in the U.S. in 2015 according to the State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and this is the first outbreak in the state of Florida.

Vets at the University of Florida have treated seven dogs since last week and are awaiting results on another six. Several animals needed to be hospitalized, but all are stable. As stated above, the flu is not typically fatal to dogs, or contagious to humans, but it can spread to cats and — if left untreated — progress to pneumonia.

“It’s very contagious, so you have to be careful,” Dr. Marta Lista of Trail Animal Hospital told the Miami Herald. Her practice was alerted last week and so far has not seen any suspected cases. “Most dogs don’t have immunity and they don’t have vaccines.”

Symptoms to watch for include coughing, sneezing, runny noses, fever and lethargy. Dog owners should call their vets if they see symptoms and keep their pet away from other animals until they are treated. Sick pets need to be quarantined for at least four weeks.

Dr. Marta Lista and assistant Andres Zapata examine a patient. Thus far, Lista’s Miami practice has not seen any suspected cases. Photo: Marice Cohn Band/Miami Herald

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Dogs have no natural immunity to the flu and the virus can live up to 24 hours, so dogs can be infected just by being exposed to an area, such as a dog park or grooming parlor, Lista said.

Until recently, flu vaccines were not often recommended, but Lista said her practice will now make them available to all dog and cat owners — in particular to at-risk dogs that might be boarded or traveling.

The flu was first identified in China, Korea and Thailand, where scientists believe the virus, originally affecting birds, jumped to dogs roaming live bird markets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. In 2015, an outbreak in Chicago swelled to about a thousand animals as the virus spread through the Midwest.

Close-contact areas, like boarding facilities and grooming salons, are where the virus is most easily spread. Nearly all dogs exposed to the virus become infected, but only 80 percent show symptoms. The most common symptom is a cough that can last up to three weeks, per the AVMA.

Lista worried the numbers will likely rise.

“It’s not going to be easy to contain,” she said. “If they go to a dog park and sneeze and this spreads 10 feet, this thing can spread very quickly.”

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