When a pit bull-mix puppy was brought to the Animal Hospital of Havre de Grace last Monday with dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea, veterinarian Bradley Price did not have good news for the dog's owner.
"We did a parvovirus test and the dog was positive for parvovirus," Price said.
The highly contagious virus, which only affects dogs, attacks the animal's digestive system and is often fatal, with bacterial complications. The disease has been around since the late 1970s and Price said he often sees a couple of cases each year.
In this case, the puppy's owners could not afford the extensive care and hospitalization required to treat parvovirus. They chose to euthanize the dog.
"We don't have a facility for isolation and we don't have overnight care," Price said about his operation.
The doctor decided to call some other veterinarians in the immediate area the next day and discovered 12 more cases had been reported at some point recently between Havre de Grace and Edgewood.
On Friday, he found two more cases from the Humane Society of Harford County, bringing the total to 14.
"We don't know that this is an outbreak," he cautioned. "This is something you see going along because a lot of people don't vaccinate their pets."
The county health department has not heard anything about parvovirus and is unlikely to get such information, spokesman Bill Wiseman said.
"Our [v]ector [c]ontrol folks... had none, nor would they necessarily because canine parvo virus is non-reportable to the Health department," Wiseman wrote in an e-mail Monday.
He said he followed up with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, whose employees said they would not ordinarily deal with the issue because it is not considered a human health concern.
Price is hoping to stop the disease from spreading by reminding dog owners of the importance of vaccination and of cleaning up after their pets.
He is holding a vaccine clinic this Saturday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the hopes of getting more people to come out for the vaccine, pointing out that treatment for the virus is out of reach for many people.
"If you can treat them aggressively with continuous IV fluids, some dogs can survive, but it's not inexpensive," he said.
The symptoms of parvovirus are lethargy, severe vomiting, loss of appetite and bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea.
Some dog breeds are more susceptible to the illness than others, Price said, like the pit bull, Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher and Labrador retriever.
"They can be passing the virus in their feces for a long time," Price said. "One of the hallmarks of controlling it is picking up feces every time and preventing their dog from being around places where other dogs can be."
He also said for puppies younger than 12 weeks, the vaccine may not be effective, but he thinks it should still be done because it could be protective.
"The take-home message that I want to get out is, have your pets vaccinated," Price said. "The other take-home message is good sanitation."