What is Parvovirus?

By: Dr. John Crumley DSC_0303-001

Parvoviruses are a large group with almost every mammal species (including humans) seems to have its own parvovirus. Fortunately, each virus is specific for which animal species it can infect (i.e. the canine parvovirus will not infect people). However, the canine parvovirus will affect most members of the dog family (wolves, coyotes, and foxes).

While the parvoviruses of other species have been well known for decades, the canine parvovirus is a relative newcomer. The original canine parvovirus, discovered in 1967, lead to a series of infections in the 1970’s and unfortunately still to this day.

Golden Retriever puppyThe most common form of the virus is called CPV-2b, but there is a new particularly virulent strain of parvovirus (CPV-2c) which is rapidly becoming the second most common form of canine parvovirus. Fortunately, currently available vaccines cover all variants of canine parvovirus including CPV-2c, as do all the commercially available diagnostic test kits.

After a 3-7 day incubation period, the disease manifests itself with vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite. If untreated, death from dehydration and sepsis is most commonly the end result. If treated with aggressive care, up to 80% of patients will survive and go on to lead normal lives after infection. Since the treatment is extensive, often times requiring isolation in a veterinary hospital for many days, we must be prepared for significant expense of treatment (often times over $1,000).

Treatment for parvovirus infection centers on supportive care. This means that the clinical problems that come up in the course of the infection are addressed individually with the goal of keeping the patient alive long enough for an immune response to generate. We do not have effective antiviral drugs and must rely on the patient’s immune system for cure. Puppy on Fluids Intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medication, anti-diarrhea medication, antibiotics, and pain medication are paramount if the pet is to survive infection.

The sad truth of canine parvovirus is that we could eradicate it with simple vaccination as we have with other terrible diseases (ever heard of small pox? ) Vaccination must be done at an early age (as early as 6-7 weeks of age), then repeated every 3-4 weeks until the pet is 16 weeks of age, then every 1-3 years into adulthood.

The difficultly lies in the robust nature of the virus; it can live on surfaces (pavement, grass, dirt, bottom of shoes and the SAMSUNGlike) for months to years. A sick pet’s feces and/or vomit can spread thousands to millions of viral particles into the environment. If an unvaccinated, or undervaccinated, dog sniffs or licks up viral particles, they can become infected.

So, if you have a new puppy, make sure you get him or her vaccinated at the correct times with your veterinarian and avoid areas where dogs congregate until the vaccine series is finished.