Chicago outbreak of dog flu has authorities pitching Merck vaccine

An outbreak of canine influenza in the Chicago area has affected 1,000 dogs, 5 of which died. Fears of a widening epidemic prompted the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control to issue a warning to dog owners, suggesting they avoid doggy daycare facilities and other places where pets may congregate. Now the agency is recommending that dog owners there obtain the canine influenza vaccine, which is made by Merck ($MRK) Animal Health.

Jerry Klein, supervising veterinarian at the Chicago Veterinary Emergency Center, told the local CBS news broadcast that his hospital is handling 15 cases of dog flu per day. Dogs can't pass the disease to people but they can to other dogs, and potential complications include pneumonia, he says.

"I've been here for 35 years, it's probably the worst type of outbreak I've ever experienced," Klein told CBS. Cases of dog flu have also been reported in Wisconsin, prompting animal-health agencies throughout the Midwest to recommend the vaccine.

Canine influenza was first discovered in 2004, and since then outbreaks have been reported in 40 states, according to doginfluenza.com, a site maintained by Merck.

Although the flu is treatable and doesn't cause symptoms in some dogs, it can be particularly dangerous to dogs under age 1 or over age 7, said Donna Alexander, Cook County's animal control administrator, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. She estimates it will take another few weeks for the virus to subside.

Merck does not break out the performance of specific animal-health products in its financial reports, so it's difficult to gauge the potential impact of this outbreak on sales of the canine influenza vaccine, called Nobivac. But further developing its presence in the vaccine market is clearly a priority for the company. It recently signed an agreement with China Animal Husbandry Industry, for example, to explore vaccine opportunities in that country. And any boost to the vaccine business will help cushion the blow from declining sales of Zilmax, its embattled feed additive that ran into safety questions last year.

- here's the CBS story
- read more at the Chicago Tribune

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