I shared this week on our Harley’s Haven social media about how BCI is having another distemper outbreak, and I felt like it was also a good time to share some of the back story here. About 7 or so years ago, there was a HUGE outbreak of distemper on the island – it easily killed hundreds of dogs…very sad and very devastating for such a small community. Distemper is one of those viruses you hope you never deal with. There is no cure – there is only time, and support, and a wing and a prayer that the immune system can pull through, and it’s incredibly contagious. Some dogs make it, many do not. It often progresses from mild GI signs like vomiting and diarrhea, to respiratory signs, to most severely neurologic signs and even seizures. Before we began our mission to help this island, they really struggled with it and have lost so many dogs to this virus every time there is an outbreak. And honestly, they are still struggling with it.
The thing that is most upsetting about this virus is that it is so preventable. The vaccine is inexpensive, safe, and ridiculously effective. However, you have to know you need it, and have access to it, and have the funds to get it to make it work. For all of those reasons, there is still a pretty regular problem with the virus on Big Corn Island. We have dealt with it many times at the clinic, and the most notable time that comes to mind is the story of ‘Blue’. This adorable little puppy was literally waiting for us when we arrived to our 2017 trip. His owner came by the clinic before we arrived and spoke with Cynthia while she was setting up, and she was so worried about him that she had him come to our hotel and he was waiting outside when we pulled up! Of course we were ready to jump in, and pulled all of our stuff out right there on the lawn outside our rooms to get a look at him and see what we could do! He was so very sad – he had progressed to the neurologic signs and had head tremors and whole body twitching, and had been sick for a few weeks. We gave him the troubling news that we thought this was distemper, and explained that we could not ‘fix’ him, but could give him some support and see how he did. We loaded him up with some antibiotics, vitamins and supplements, and SQ fluids to help his hydration and asked him to come back the next day so we could check him again. His owner brought him to the clinic EVERY DAY, the entire time we were there to get more fluids and support. His dedication to this little puppy was so adorable…and guess what? He made it!! We were all so thrilled to get the update after we left he continued to improve and he was one of the very lucky ones who made a full recovery, despite the odds being against him.
Unfortunately, there are many others who did not make it, even in our small world of our trips down to the island – there has been at least one puppy each year with it, usually more, and they usually do not make it. We have to focus on the positive, and I try not to dwell on those lost, but instead focus on little ones like Blue who did make it, and the hundreds of other dogs who have been protected from the virus through our widespread free vaccinations! One of my favorite things of traveling down there, are the days we wander around the barrios (villages), yelling about ‘vacunas (vaccines)!’ – But that is a story for another day 😊
Three years ago, the year we were not able to travel down due to some light civil unrest on the mainland (think road blockades, shootings in the streets…not exactly safe, even for do-gooders.) – they had another outbreak, and we shipped down about 300 vaccines! We were able to cut it off, and stop the spread of the virus which was amazing!! RIGHT NOW – they are having another outbreak, and many dogs have already succumbed to this horrible virus. We shipped down another 300 vaccines this week, and our friends on the island are busily administering them likely as you read this! It truly takes a team of amazing and dedicated people to make a difference for the animals of this island, and it makes me so proud to be a part of it! And by sending down vaccines there is a very clear difference - it will literally save hundreds of lives. It’s pretty amazing to know that I am a part of something so impactful.
If you take nothing else from this story, please vaccinate your dogs. Distemper is so terrible, and so sad to see. Luckily it is not that common here in the states (thanks to widespread vaccinations!!), but we had a puppy in our rescue with it just a few months ago, and we do occasionally see it. It is not worth the risk when the vaccine is so safe and effective. Please vaccinate your dogs, educate yourselves, and help us eventually be able to completely wipe this disease off the planet – stamping out disease one dog at a time!