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The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is quarantining about a dozen dogs after one dog there died of suspected canine influenza.

“Approximately one dozen dogs at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter have exhibited symptoms of an unspecified upper respiratory illness with one case of fatal pneumonia,” said shelter spokeswoman Kristen Auerbach. “The staff is concerned that the source of the upper respiratory infection could be a virus known as canine influenza and is working with veterinarians on a treatment program and containment plan.”

Auerbach said the shelter has not pinpointed the cause of the potential outbreak but said test results, confirming whether canine influenza is present in the dogs, should be available by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Until then, the shelter will not accept dogs that are being given up by their owners, as the shelter does not have any secure areas to keep newly surrendered dogs where they will not be exposed.

“Canine influenza is a virus and we suspect that the dog who died may have had it,” Auerbach said. “It was an otherwise young and healthy dog.”

According to Auerbach, canine flu will not cause illness in humans and it cannot be transmitted from dogs to humans. However, humans can carry the virus on their hands and clothes, which can then potentially be transmitted to a personal pet. Dogs are most likely to contract this illness, but cats may become infected as well. “One of the scary things about all viruses is that they mutate,” she said. “Canine influenza actually emerged in 2004 as a mutated form of a horse, or equine, flu virus.”

Canine influenza can spread rapidly through an animal shelter population and in light of the case of fatal pneumonia, Auerbach said animal shelter management is taking steps to treat and protect shelter animals as well as prevent further spreading of the virus. Shelter visitors and volunteers will be asked to take special measures to prevent the spread of the illness.

Sick dogs will be isolated from other dogs and from the public while they undergo treatment. Healthy dogs will be adopted out. Adopters will be given special instructions to seek immediate veterinary care if symptoms emerge. The shelter staff is working to find temporary foster homes for dogs that are healthy or recovering. The shelter is seeking residents who have no other pets in their home to help foster a healthy or recovering dog until this sickness passes.

Those interested can contact the shelter at 703-324-0208 or email Kristen.auerbach@fairfaxcounty.gov.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com