My mom is a control freak. With everything around her, from school lunches to car transportation to in-laws, she is a stickler for “getting it right.”
When it comes to vaccines, she stands firm. She prefers working with it instead of getting it, trying her best to be informed and every precaution must be taken.
It is a relief, then, to know she does have options for not vaccinating. There are certainly pet vaccines that have gotten fewer public airtime over the years, including a new Spanish one, that has earned kudos as effective and even safer than a rabies vaccine for pets.
Until recently, however, there were no vaccines that would protect dogs against Nipah, a disease that arose in India that can be fatal. The public heard about it a little over a year ago in the form of research that found it could kill dogs even after many doses.
It’s not a science fiction novel, unfortunately, but a problem: dogs die. Particularly small dogs, especially puppies, are susceptible. Nipah is not dangerous for people.
The only way dogs could have gotten the disease, the public has thought, was if they had been accidentally exposed to nipah when it attacked humans.
But guess what? Many dogs are exposed to nipah by their parents from time to time, after which nipah does not manifest itself in dogs at all. Nor, it appears, do dogs develop immunity against it as they mature.
If dogs can’t develop immunity against nipah, which the dog isn’t immune to, and the human that brought it in becomes resistant, then the only way dogs can develop immunity is for either the dog’s owner to ignore it, or for the dog to become immune to it. And until Nipah does start circulating among dogs or humans again, there isn’t much the dog world can do about it.
That is where my mom comes in. When she heard about the Spanish vaccine, she told me it was a necessary tool for her dogs. If there are no vaccines to protect them against a potentially dangerous disease that can kill a human and many dogs, how is she supposed to keep them from getting the disease in the first place?
But this is not only a moment in time, it is one that might continue for years or even decades. If there is any sort of immunity to nipah in dogs, it is going to be critical to vaccinate dogs because of the danger.
In the United States, we have a responsibility to ensure that people have access to information and that medicine is used judiciously. Nipah is a really tricky virus to stop because it is hard to recognize if you have it, has a red stain on your skin if you have it, but doesn’t appear until a year or more later. It is the kind of “textbook case” of what should be included on a must-vaccinate list that could potentially solve this problem.
Most concerning, however, is that for as many of the dog owners who heard about the Spanish vaccine, there are many who are planning a celebration and a party for their animals and aren’t going to take the step that could save the life of their dogs. And that is a very disturbing example of dog ownership, a flaw in that part of the animal kingdom.
For those of us who love our pets so much, there is no excuse for ignoring this vital public health issue. If no dog is immune to nipah, then the dog shouldn’t be allowed to attend a party or social event with people who could be exposed to nipah. If there are no vaccines to protect against it, then this is another serious issue where keeping a dog well is important for safety and for public health.