Canine Parvovirus - the Epidemic Killer of Dogs, and Beyond…
Trisha Murphy-Horman, Sharrah Afghans, est. 1971

After 8 years in the Afghans, in 1979 Sharrah's first litter experienced tragedy and became the first confirmed case of Canine Parvovirus (CPV) in the Midwest. Parvo emerged as an epidemic and tens of thousands of dogs died worldwide.

I worked in cooperation with Cornell University and Dr. Leland Carmichael, the first to isolate the deadly virus in the world. After starting the CPV Research Fund and Campaign, the group raised over $1 million. The killed vaccine hit the market 6-8 months earlier than anticipated in the middle of the epidemic. It required frequent dosing, but saved lives. Parvo then migrated from the dog to the human, where the enteric strain showed up in children under age 12.

Parvovirus, a major canine disease, was first cited June 1978 in both Australia and the U.S., and was isolated in Sept. 1978 by Dr. Leland Carmichael, Cornell University. After testing nearly 1,000 serum samples, collected and stored at the Baker Institute over the a 10 year period, NO sample beforehand contained antibodies to canine parvovirus (parvo). This confirmed parvo as a new disease. Cases soon were confirmed in Sri Lanka, Gabon, South Africa, Singapore and Brazil. The disease is closely related to feline panleukopenia (cat distemper); however, there was no evidence cats were a source for the disease in dogs. Man can transport the virus from one location to another, but the dog can also carry the disease.

Parvovirus is a small organism. One million particles end to end equal less than 1". In 1980, there were 10 billion viral particles in a single diarrheic stool; a single grams of diarrheic feces contained enough virus to infect at least 1,000 dogs, and the virus lived in feces at least a week. The saliva, vomitus and urine may also shed the disease. It was transmitted on the hair or feet of infected dogs even those showing no signs of illness, or by contaminated crates, shoes, or other objects. Recovered dogs were infectious and shed the virus for at least 3 weeks. They did not shed the virus when re-challenged weeks later, nor did they become infected with the virus again. However, corona virus showed repeated illnesses with relapses as little as 3 weeks apart. Parvo was a difficult disease to destroy and withstood freezing and thawing, and remained active in temps over 120 degrees for 3 days.

The virus replicated inside living cells that divided and destroyed cells producing white blood cells. Because antibiotics have no effect on viruses (then or now), the animal was treated symptomatically with concerns focused on combating rapid dehydration, nutrition, and preventing secondary infection. The severity of the disease varied, even within an individual kennel. In 1980, the mortality rate in adults was approx. 5% and in infected litters around 50%.

Parvo broke down into 2 syndromes: 1) Enteritis - which destroyed the intestinal lining and it affected all breeds and any age.2) Myocarditis - attacked the heart muscle and affected pups between 4-6 weeks. With the enteric strain, the dog usually stopped eating and acted depressed 12-24 hours before showing clinical signs. Vomiting was usually next, followed by diarrhea, which later became bloody and sometimes projectile. Temps ranged from 104-107; frequently higher in puppies. The leukopenia (white cells) dropped as low as 400 cells/mm3 (8,000-12,000 is normal). With myocarditis, affected pups did not nurse well and frequently became depressed the day before they began to gag and gasp for breath. Sometimes there were no signs and the dogs were found dead due to heart failure. Entire litters were lost. There was high probability that survivors of myocarditis suffered heart murmurs. Even littermates that did not develop clinical signs, may have suffered EKG abnormalities, which left the animals maimed and not adequate breeding stock, or even a healthy pet.

Parvo was confirmed via electron microscope, tissue culture, immunoflorscent antibody techniques, serology and fecal hemaglutination (stool HA titer). A dog infected with parvo developed high, long-lasting antibody titer. Serum antibody is detectable as early as 3-4 days post-infection, reaching maximum levels at 5-7 days. There is little decline for at least 1 year.

Today, modified-live parvo vaccines effectively immunize approx. 60-80% of the dog population after the first injection and 70-90% after the second. Because it was a new disease, it spread quickly through a virgin population and 40% of all dogs showed clinical signs of illness; the remaining 60% at some point became active shedders through feces.

We worked diligently with Cornell; all 2,500 AKC show-giving kennel clubs were provided 6 written updates from Sept. 80 for the next 18 months. These were disseminated in 250 publications worldwide. I took in over 2,500 phone calls and gave 14 presentations. With only my foundation dog left, Ch. Shangrila Pharaoh Kauravya, I set out to find the only surviving pup, who later became Group Winning Ch. Sharrah's Zhunghatoh. Dog World Magazine, the largest publication circulated, named the Parvo effort "the most major contribution of the decade" [1980's]. The Afghan Hound Review, the largest single breed circulation at the time, cited the articles as the "best" for 2 straight years.

Beyond the tragedy, I finished my degree, became a Director at a pharmaceutical company. Through the help of Afghan breeders, Sharrah's Generation #2 blossomed, and over 40 years later Generation #9 started.

We value the lost art of breeding, repeatable lineage, and embrace prolific prepotent gene pools. THE LITTER and its ANCESTORS determine pheno and genotypic predispositioning. The result is standard sized dogs, level tops, full dentition, consistently sound, with open, springy, balanced gait - the essence of a true Afghan serving form and function.

Ch. Sharrah's Khalin is on a new quest, perhaps just as big as parvo. He was whelped in 2002, started Generation 6. He finished his championship quickly and now lives with Vallie and Joe.

In 2010, Ch. Sharrah's Khalin received his AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Therapy Dogs Intl. (TDI) certifications. Vallie's latest endeavor is spearheading a mission to spread the word about the silent killer of Ovarian cancer. The vision is to save a life, while raising awareness of Ovarian cancer symptoms. Ch. Khalin (Linnie) is a huge part of that worth-while effort, as individuals in pain find solace and various levels of healing and health improvements through interaction and touch. Ch. Sharrah's Khalin aids in quality-of-life issues for women nationally.