(PHOENIX) — As cases of the highly contagious, often fatal distemper disease surface throughout the Valley, the Arizona Humane Society is issuing a community wide health alert to pet owners within Arizona. While increased occurrences of distemper typically arise in the spring due to an increase in the number of litters of puppies, signs of the disease are appearing much earlier as cases have recently emerged as far away as Florida, Ohio and Georgia. There is also evidence to suggest that two new strains of distemper indigenous to Europe have made their way to the U.S. and while the typical incubation period for distemper is one to two weeks the new strains may have even longer incubation periods. In addition, distemper was once thought of as a disease that primarily affected puppies who have not had all of their "puppy" shots; however, there is evidence of older pets with unconfirmed vaccination histories becoming infected with the distemper virus. This extremely contagious whole body viral disease is shed in bodily secretions of infected animals and spread via inhalation. Once inhaled, the virus moves to the lymph nodes where it begins reproducing. The virus then spreads to the blood and the cell lining of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital and central nervous system of infected animals. Symptoms vary from dog to dog, but often include: discharge from eyes/nose, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, callusing of nose/foot pads, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. While AHS vaccinates all animals upon intake into its shelter, it is imperative that the community is diligent and does the same by updating their pet's vaccinations as directed by their veterinarian. Distemper, just as the equally fatal parvovirus, is a community problem. Therefore, people must be very careful when taking their pets to communal areas such as dog parks or other public areas with unknown dogs. In addition, unvaccinated dogs are at high risk for contracting the disease. Currently, there is no specific treatment or cure for the distemper virus. For dogs suspected of having distemper, it is imperative that they be checked by a vet immediately and isolated from other dogs within the home. In the event your pet is diagnosed with the distemper virus a thorough cleaning of your home with disinfectant is necessary. AHS is taking every precautionary measure available to ensure the health of the animals in our care and in our community. In addition, AHS is working closely with our vaccination representatives as new information becomes available while also working in conjunction with Oklahoma State University regarding a research study so we can gain more information on the deadly virus.