Yups...Outbreak... and its not a remake of that infamous movie about Ebola virus in monkeys. Its happening here, now in upper Plaine Willhems area. Since a few weeks now, I have been seeing more cases of Distemper than I ever saw in a decade!Each with "textbook" symptoms and even rare ones that I see for the first time now...
Distemper...that extremely contagious virus that leaves us vets so frustrated because we can do nearly NOTHING when presented with such cases; apart from treating secondary bacterial infection and providing some supportive therapy. Distemper...that same virus that is so easily prevented by a vaccination that is available since 1950...and yet how many dogs are vaccinated in Mauritius?
Anyways...today I will not get angry at owners nor veterinarians or whoever and focus on the whole point of this blog: i.e.spread information that may help animals...and as someone put it; "Validate" my purpose here.
So...what is Distemper? It's a viral disease that was discovered in the early 1900s by the French Veterinarian, Henri de Carre (Hence the french name of "Maladie De Carre")The virus is present in the soil and is regularly aerosolised in vapour droplets in summer (intense heat after a heavy rain). It takes one unprotected dog to spread the "fire" in the neighbourhood; one dog that serves as the factory for viral particles and it's snowball effect!
The virus is initially detected and isolated by the body's immune system in the pharyngeal lymph nodes but they soon overcome the defence mechanisms and start replicating and spreading to nerve tissue along the spinal cord. First symptoms are: Fever, anorexia and swelling under the neck.At this point of time, the animal's immune system is still reacting positively to the viral challenge...
Then, neurological symptoms become apparent; weakness on hind limbs; animal may feel intense pain when hind legs are touched and may bite; acute purulent inflammation of the eye and lungs resulting in thick yellow discharges in the eye and nose and loud breathing.Some individuals may even show a distinctive symptom like hardening of the foot pads...I have read a lot about that and this year is the first time ever I saw so many!! The pad becomes literrally as a fingernail!This is indicative of the failure of the immune system and the taking over of the whole body by the virus. This is when most owners bring their animals to the vet and with some aggressive treatment we might save the strong ones.
If left unattended past this point, survival rate is practically NIL...the virus rapidly progresses along the spine to the brain and the animal then invariably dies in atrocious fits, seizures and pain.This is when you should call it quits and stop the animal's suffering and preventing the virus to propagate further by choosing euthanasia for that poor soul.
In puppies (whose immune system is not yet developed, the virus meets with...NO resistance at all and swiftly progresses to the central nervous system and causes the atrocious pain. These little ones will rarely show all the secondary symptoms but will whine and howl practically constantly, only stopping because they are out of energy and out of voice. These animals should be promptly taken to the vet for euthanasia...They do not deserve so much pain and in their lives.
Treatment is, as I said, symptomatic and palliative i.e.Your vet will prescribe ointments for the eye and antibiotics for the secondary bacterial pneumonitis and if your animal is not eating it should be on IV Dextrose drip and force fed at home.
Until last week, I personally did not try anything to stop the virus and traditional vet medicine does not prescribe anything for it...We are taught in school that YOU CANNOT KILL THE VIRUS...YOU JUST HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE ANIMAL'S BODY TO FIGHT IT OFF (and yeah...cross your fingers while you wait!!)..But some informative reading lately revealed that some "unorthodox" treatments have shown good results. Based on the close (very close) similarity between the Distemper and the Measles virus some vets have successfully cleared the virus with a human Measles antiviral- Ribavirin. I' have spent like hours over the phone looking for that here in Mauritius and, of course, this is not available!
One other drug that yielded good results was ...Vitamin A!! Yes, this Vitamin A, when given in high doses seem to disrupt the reproductive mechanism of the virus and thus prevents further replication inside the dog's body. This one I got here, and the results are quite conclusive...it does work! For colleagues out there reading this: The dose is up to 300,000 IU/Kg/Day...I gave up to 10 days.
Oh...and Yes, another favourite question from owners: "Can I catch Distemper from my dog?"
While I have seen many "Distemper-looking" human beings...this virus only affects members and relatives of the dog family...but it will readily jump species and affect wild Felines like in the near decimation episode of the Serengeti lions some 10 yrs ago and a more recent outbreak in asian Tigers. A specific strain that affects seals has also been discovered lately. Domestic cats CANNOT catch Distemper from a dog.
So there you are folks...Distemper all "dissected" for you!! With the hope that it may help you understand better the plight of your dog and your responsibility to protect him with vaccination and when to stop being an egoist and prolong his suffering when nothing can be done to save him.
In the meantime, Outbreak is in the Quatre Bornes-Vacoas area and I keep disinfecting my clinic like three times a day!
But...Mauritius is a small island!!!