On Monday, Feb. 3, the Guilford County Animal Shelter issued a warning to all county pet owners to be on the lookout for signs of distemper in their pets.

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the county shelter found, after routine testing, that a stray dog picked up from the Greensboro area tested positive for distemper ­– a highly-contagious, frequently fatal virus that spreads among dogs through bodily excretions as well as by inhalation. Distemper develops in the dog’s lymph nodes before it enters the blood stream and the cell lining of the animal, often affecting the respiratory and central nervous system.

The infected dog that set off alarm bells in Guilford County was being housed in isolation, and, according to the warning issued by the shelter on Monday, shelter staff “took immediate quarantine actions in accordance with protocols.”

The press release states, “Staff have activated additional proactive measures, such as isolation of nine other animals who were in exposure ranges, ensuring vaccinations are in place for all animals housed at the shelter, cleaning, and disinfecting to keep the contagious disease from spreading. At this time no other animals have tested positive. Shelter staff will continue the quarantine and cleaning protocols through the end of February.”

Symptoms for pet owners to look for include a thick discharge in the dog’s nose and eyes, as well as diarrhea, fever, coughing and a loss of appetite. Other signs include twitching and other neurological issues.

According to county officials, dogs of any age are susceptible to distemper. They also note that the dog can be infected and spreading the virus without exhibiting any symptoms.

Although distemper may be manageable in a few cases, currently there’s no known cure, and the disease often requires euthanasia.

Shelter Veterinarian, Dr. Clarissa Noureddine stated in the county’s announcement that it’s very important for pet owners to have their dogs vaccinated.

“Distemper is very preventable, since the vaccine is highly effective.” Noureddine stated. “It is critical for pet owners to vaccinate their pets early and regularly, beginning with booster shots for puppies every two to four weeks from six to 20 weeks of age, then annually based on recommendations by their own vet.”

Lisa Lee, the community engagement coordinator for the shelter, also urged caution.

“We are taking this very seriously,” her statement read. “In order to adequately manage the situation, we have temporarily reduced operational space for intake to facilitate cleaning and isolation requirements. We are working closely with our Rescue and Foster partners who are willing to help quarantine the exposed animals outside of the shelter. To date, we have had no additional animals test positive for distemper; we are optimistically hopeful that we can prevent the spread of distemper in our shelter as it was caught early through our routine surveillance and testing. It is vital that our community understand the importance of regular vaccinations for their pets. As you can see, one unvaccinated stray can have a devastating impact on a shelter if not caught early.”