Merck Launches Awareness Campaign to Push Canine Flu Vaccination

After an outbreak of the H3N2 strain of canine influenza last year, Merck is hoping for a high uptake of its new vaccine.
Jared Kaltwasser
Published: July 25, 2016
Merck Animal Health is making a major push to promote its new canine influenza vaccine in the wake of last year's H3N2 flu outbreak. 

The company has hired famed photographer Elias Weiss Friedman, the man behind the photo-documentary series The Dogist, to join a series of “pop-up” education events at dog parks around the country. The events will allow pet owners to meet with veterinarians and discuss canine influenza and vaccination. They will also have the opportunity to meet Friedman and have their dogs photographed by him. The campaign has been dubbed “If This Dog Could Talk.”

“One of the most important stories to tell is about a dog’s health needs, so I am excited to collaborate on this campaign to help more pet owners understand the importance of protecting their dogs against canine influenza,” Friedman said, in a press release.

Merck’s canine flu vaccine is one of two on the market that protect against the H3N2 strain of the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Merck’s vaccine, and one by Zoetis, were approved in November following a March 2015 outbreak of H3N2 influenza in the Chicago area.

Prior to that outbreak, the strain was thought to be active only in eastern Asia. The AVMA says it suspects the outbreak resulted from a direct transmission of avian influenza virus to dogs, possibly in a live bird market. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found the H3N2 strain can be shed for up to 24 days, much longer than the H3N8 strain, which was the subject of an outbreak in 2004 and is considered endemic in dogs in areas of Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The AVMA says nearly all dogs exposed to the virus will catch it, though only about 80% will show symptoms. However, even the 20% that don’t show signs of infection can still spread the virus. Dogs that get the virus should be isolated for 21 days, according to the association.

Natalie Marks, DVM, co-owner of the Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago, said dog owners whose pets regularly intermingle with other pets ought to seriously consider getting the flu vaccine.

“I’m part of this initiative because I’ve seen the devastating impact of CIV first hand—from a dog’s health and the emotional toll it takes on owners, to the impact it can have on local businesses and the community,” said Marks, who is also the national veterinary spokesperson for the campaign. “When CIV broke in our area, we were seeing upwards of 15 cases a day and were working tirelessly to contain the spread of a very infectious strain of the disease, H3N2.”

Merck said its inaugural “If This Dog Could Talk” pop-up event will take place in Chicago. Other events are set for Atlanta and Charlotte, according to the company’s Twitter page.

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