Animal group offering vaccine after deadly outbreak in York, Lancaster counties

Angel Thompson of the Humane Society of York County holds a dog that is up for adoption Thursday at Carolina Place Animal Hospital in Fort Mill.
Angel Thompson of the Humane Society of York County holds a dog that is up for adoption Thursday at Carolina Place Animal Hospital in Fort Mill. tkimball@heraldonline.com

An uptick of a deadly virus in pets in York and Lancaster counties has a national animal rescue group scrambling to prevent it from spreading further.

York and Lancaster counties saw a canine distemper outbreak during the spring that left numerous animals sick and some dead, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

To prevent the virus from spreading, the Humane Society will hold two vaccination clinics Saturday – one in Fort Mill and one in Lancaster.

“The virus is picking up speed ... and a lot of people aren’t aware of the vaccines and how it (distemper) can be prevented,” said Liz Ellwood, a veterinarian technician at Carolina Place Animal Hospital in Fort Mill.

Canine distemper is a “highly, highly contagious and the mortality rate is extremely high,” Ellwood said.

Symptoms include eye and nose discharge, coughing, fever and vomiting and spreads quickly into the respiratory system, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The virus causes neurological symptoms such as convulsions and paralysis.

Lancaster County had more cases of the spring distemper outbreak than York County, said Kim Kelly, South Carolina state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“We were hit hard,” said Lancaster County Animal Shelter manager Alan Williams. “This year is the worst that I have seen.”

The Lancaster County shelter quarantined the animals and was forced to close for nearly a month, Williams said. About 30 of the dogs were euthanized, he said.

The York County Animal Shelter did not see an uptick in the virus, said Suzanne Edson, shelter supervisor.

Ellwood said Carolina Place Animal Hospital had not seen the virus in several years before the recent outbreak.

“We have seen 15 to 20 cases this year,” she said.

Vaccinations have largely prevented the disease, said Mary Beth Knapp, board chairperson of the Humane Society of York County.

“We haven’t seen the actual distemper play itself out because our normal boosters contain the virus antibody,” said Knapp, adding the Humane Society of York County had one confirmed case of the virus and five dogs were “impacted.”

Cats can contract the virus, but the recent outbreak affected dogs, Knapp said.

The virus is likely spreading because pet owners are not vaccinating their pets, Williams said.

“It is so simple to get your dog vaccinated,” he said, adding that once distemper spreads “it’s going to be trouble for everybody.”

Veterinarians will offer distemper-parvovirus vaccines for dogs and feline distemper vaccines for cats at Saturday’s clinics. Both cats and dogs will recieve a rabies vaccine.

The cost is $3 per pet at the Humane Society of York County, 8177 Regent Parkway, Fort Mill. The clinic is 8-10 a.m. Saturday.

The Lancaster County clinic will be noon-2:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 720 W. Meeting St., Lancaster. The vaccines in Lancaster are free of charge.

All pets are must be on a leash or in a carrier, or one will be provided at the clinic. The vaccines are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and appointments are not available.