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Giardia Disease Prevention is Here

Fort Dodge Animal Health Introduces Giardiavax™ for Dogs

"Intestinal parasite" is not a phrase that anyone wants associated with their family's health -- including their pet's. But did you know that your pet might put your family at risk of becoming infected with an intestinal parasite? Especially if your pet is infected with a parasite like Giardia -- one of the most significant waterborne protozoal illnesses in the United States, which infects both pets and humans.

GiardiaVax™ is the first vaccine available to prevent the disease and cyst shedding caused by Giardia infection in dogs, now available from your veterinarian.

Now there is a vaccine available to help break the cycle of Giardia infection in dogs. Fort Dodge Animal Health has received USDA approval for the release of GiardiaVax™, the first vaccine to be used in dogs as an aid in the prevention of disease and cyst shedding caused by the protozoal parasite Giardia.

It has been estimated that nearly 36 to 50 percent of puppies, 10 percent of well-treated adult dogs, and up to 100 percent of dogs in breeding kennels are infected with Giardia.1 In a recent unprecedented field study sponsored by Fort Dodge Animal Health involving more than 7,500 pets, it is estimated that as many as one out of eight pets seen by a veterinarian may be infected with Giardia.

Giardia is a one-celled, microscopic parasite that lives in many different and often unexpected water sources, including ponds, lakes, streams, backyard swimming pools and even tap water. Giardia has even been found on contaminated animal haircoats. When ingested, it infects the intestinal tract of pets and humans, causing fever, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as other potentially serious and painful gastrointestinal problems.

Although any pet can contract the disease, dogs most at risk of becoming infected with Giardia include puppies, outdoor dogs, hunting dogs, farm dogs, city dogs, adopted strays, dogs that live in kennels and dogs in multi-pet households. Many researchers believe there is even the possibility of transfer of Giardia infection between pets and people.

"If I have an animal who has tested positive for Giardia and there are children in the household, I recommend treating the patient. And, if the animal is one that would be contaminating the environment, we always warn the clients that this animal could contaminate water supplies and the patient (dog) should be treated," said Dr. David Twedt, professor of small animal medicine, Department of Sciences at Colorado State University.

Pets, like humans, become infected with Giardia through fecal-oral contact, or, when they ingest infective cysts in contaminated water from streams, lakes, ponds, puddles, wells, and tap water. Another method of infection includes grooming contaminated haircoats. Cysts develop into feeding trophozoites which reproduce and which can cause disease symptoms. The trophozoites then form cysts.

Large numbers of cysts are then passed again to the environment in the infected dog's feces within a short time; a cycle that perpetuates environmental contamination.

The Cycle of Infection

Once Giardia cysts are passed back into the environment, they can live for up to two months in temperatures of 46 degrees Fahrenheit and one month in temperatures up to 70 degrees. Researchers believe that this cyst shedding is the link to possible transfer of the infection to humans.

In a recent study by Dr. Andrew Thompson, professor of parasitology in the division of veterinary and biomedical sciences at Murdoch University, in Perth, Australia, Giardia isolates collected from both humans and domestic pets were examined. According to Thompson, Giardia isolates considered to be identical were found in both humans and companion animals, primarily in environments where pets were living in households with families.

"I think all the evidence is now suggesting that Giardia is zoonotic, and Giardia in companion animals can be transmitted to humans," said Thompson.

Diagnosis and Treatment Difficulties

When infected by Giardia, pets can show various symptoms, ranging from fever, vomiting and fatigue to severe diarrhea, cramping, dehydration and weight loss, but symptoms are not always obvious to pet owners.

To compound the difficulty of diagnosing Giardia, routine fecal analysis
rarely detects infection from Giardia in pets. Giardia cysts are shed intermittently, so one negative stool sample does not rule out infection. This allows many infected pets to continue to go undetected and contaminate the environment. The contaminated environment then poses a threat to other pets in the household and potentially pet owners.

Treating Giardia infection in pets is not always effective. Current drug treatments do not guarantee success, and they do not prevent future disease in the pet.

A Safe, Simple Solution

Pet owners now have a way to help break the cycle of Giardia infection in their dog. GiardiaVax is an inexpensive preventive measure available through your veterinarian that has been proven to be safe and effective in preventing the signs of disease and cyst shedding associated with Giardia infection. GiardiaVax can be given to healthy dogs, eight weeks of age or older and is available through veterinarians. Two to three weeks later, they should receive a booster, given annually thereafter.

"GiardiaVax is a safe and easy solution to address the threat of Giardia infection in our dogs," said David R. Hustead, DVM, director of professional services at Fort Dodge Animal Health. "Although Giardia's prevalence in dogs is well-documented, oftentimes there are subtle signs in an infected dog, and the pet owner is unaware of the problem. This can cause a problem if the dog is contaminating the environment, posing a risk to other animals and potentially the pet owner. The use of GiardiaVax gives dog owners peace of mind in protecting their pet's health, and reducing the risk of environmental contamination."

For more information about GiardiaVax, pet owners should see their veterinarian, or call 1-800-685-5656.

While Giardia infection is a recognized zoonotic disease, the role that the dog assumes in human disease is not well established. GiardiaVax has been proven to prevent clinical disease caused by Giardia lamblia infection in dogs and to significantly reduce the incidence, severity and duration of cyst shedding. Subsequent to Giardia lamblia exposure, some vaccinates may shed, therefore, proper hygiene and sanitation practices should be implemented.

Fort Dodge Animal Health is a division of American Home Products Corporation. American Home Products Corporation is one of the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical and health care products companies. It is a leader in the discovery, development, manufacturing and marketing of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. It is also a global leader in vaccines, biotechnology, agricultural products and animal health care.

1. Barr SC, et al.1994. Giardiasis in Dogs and Cats. Compendium On Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian. 16(5): 603-614


Lea-Ann Germinder, APR
Germinder & Associates, Inc.

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