Measles, distemper and how anti-vaccination movements are putting your pet at risk

The Animal Medical Center's Dr. Doug Palma examines a dog with a stethoscope

Measles, distemper and how anti-vaccination movements are putting your pet at risk

The country is in the midst of a measles epidemic. As of the last week in April, over 600 cases have been reported in 23 states, including an outbreak right here in New York City. A lot has been written about the causes and effects for human health, but what does it mean for our animal companions?
A result of the anti-vaccination movement
Much of the blame for the measles outbreak falls on the anti-vaccination movement. Stemming from parents’ concerns about autism as a result of preservatives in routine vaccines for children, many parents have skipped the traditional MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination administered beginning at 1 year of age.

The lack of MMR vaccinations has left children susceptible to measles. The current outbreak is thought to have started when unvaccinated children traveled abroad and returned home with the measles virus, which has rapidly spread to other unvaccinated children.

The anti-vaxxer movement may be spreading to pets as well. Dogs and cats don’t need to travel abroad to get diseases preventable by vaccination. Distemper, rabies and leptospirosis are all preventable by vaccination. All three diseases circulate in the USA. Right here in NYC, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has issued veterinary alerts on all three diseases in the past 18 months. Vaccination is a simple and safe way to protect your pets against potentially fatal diseases.

No herd immunity

Vaccination of large groups of humans or animals results in a form of protection against infectious disease called herd immunity or community immunity. This indirect form of protection from infectious diseases occurs when about 80% or more of a population is vaccinated against a disease. Widespread vaccination prevents a disease from spreading within a population because only a very few individual are susceptible to the infection. Without susceptible individuals, the infection rapidly dies out. The lack of herd immunity is why the anti-vaccination movement is dangerous to all and why diseases like measles spread rapidly in a population where few have been vaccinated.

Canine distemper and measles link

The measles virus is very closely related to the canine distemper virus. While dogs don’t get measles and people don’t get distemper, veterinarians have exploited the similarities in the virus to protect young dogs against distemper. Four- to six-week-old puppies develop a stronger immunity to the canine distemper virus when vaccinated with a combination distemper-measles vaccine. Veterinarians typically use this approach in puppies at high risk of contracting distemper – for example, puppies born in a shelter. Most puppies come to their home after their first vaccination for distemper and do not require a distemper-measles vaccine.

Let this blog post serve as a reminder for you to make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. If not, make an appointment with your veterinarian so can protect your pet and others’ against serious diseases.

Tags: distemper,

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