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District dog owners, take note: The Department of Health has confirmed 24 cases of canine parvovirus between June and October of this year, representing a significant uptick in diagnoses of the highly contagious and—if left untreated—potentially lethal viral disease.

On Wednesday, DOH published a press release reporting that number based on “regular communications and surveillance activities with veterinary hospitals” in D.C. Parvo (as the virus is commonly known) typically affects puppies and older dogs that haven’t been vaccinated against it when they’re exposed to the vomit or feces of infected dogs. Although the disease is easily preventable through vaccines (usually given between six to 12 weeks of age for puppies, then followed by regular boosters throughout a dog’s life), parvo can result in fatigue, lack of appetite, gastrointestinal issues, and ultimately dehydration. Untouched, parvo can survive on its own for over six months.

“There are new surveillance methods in place this year that were not in place last year; however, we have seen a significant increase in cases of both parvo and panleukopenia (the feline parvovirus),” writes Megan McAndrews, medical director at the Washington Humane Society, in an email to City Desk. “These animals were coming into our facility infected and, very often, quite ill. This is of great concern for District dog owners because it means it is in our community and in the environment.”

Unvaccinated dogs under five-months-old especially risk contracting parvo. While it’s difficult to compare this year’s number of cases to that in previous years, McAndrews adds that she hasn’t seen a similar scope of incidences during her four years at WHS; in fact, D.C. seems to be experiencing greater incidence of parvo than surrounding jurisdictions based on a recent meeting of regional shelter veterinarians she attended. (Those jurisdictions have largely reported increases in ringworm, calcivirus, and other infections.)

Just why D.C. is seeing this uptick in parvovirus remains unclear, though microbiologists know it tends to thrive in wet, cool conditions.

“The only thing that can be said with certainty is that parvovirus can easily be prevented by standard vaccination of dogs and cats, as recommended by your veterinarian,” McAndrews says. “Low-cost or free vaccine clinics offer these basic vaccinations.”

In 2011, an outbreak of parvo forced a Maryland animal shelter to shut down and euthanize nine infected dogs. A dog that has recovered from parvo will remain immune to it for the rest of its life, according to DOH.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery