Disease transmissible from dogs to humans shows up in Iowa

A commercial dog breeding centre in Marion County, Iowa has been the originating point for several cases of canine brucellosis says the state veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Kaisand. The disease is transmissible from dogs to humans say experts.

At Iowa Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship are investigating the outbreak and are warning people who have come in contact with the infected dogs and their breeder according to their statement last Friday. All animals in contact with the infected dogs have been quarantined and are being tested for the infection say the sources.

Canine brucellosis causes a severe infection among dogs. The disease is caused by the Brucella canis bacteria. Infection with this bacteria leads to reproductive problems among the dogs with major symptoms including infertility, stillbirths and spontaneous abortions seen in the dogs says the Iowa Department of Public Health. The department adds that the disease has been previously reported in North, Central and South America, and parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. The common site of occurrence of this infection is at the breeders and it is not usually seen in households. They explain that reproductive problems are more commonly detected at kennels and at breeding centres rather than in the households. When encountering difficulties in breeding the dogs are often tested when they show up positive results for the bacteria, the officials say.

Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj  / Shuttertock
Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shuttertock

The department said that the threat to pet owners is low but, “dog breeders, veterinary staff and anyone who comes in contact with blood, tissues and fluids during the birthing process may be at higher risk and should consult their primary physician.” “If pet owners have recently acquired a new, small breed dog from Marion Co., they should contact their veterinarian,” the department said.

Other symptoms among the dogs include swelling and inflammation of the lymph nodes, lethargy and fatigue, loss of weight and behavioural changes says the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. The Iowa State University also states that most dogs that are infected may remain asymptomatic until they start breeding.

It can spread to humans, they add. Humans experience flu like symptoms when infected. Thus this disease is called a “zoonotic disease” meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. The infection is rarely seen in humans. The symptoms in humans include sweats, fever, joint pain, headache and weakness. Recurrent fevers, joint pain and arthritis can be seen on long term infections. The Iowa State public health center adds that the infection may also cause damage to the eyes, heart and the nervous system in humans.

The infection spreads among dogs by contamination of birthing fluids and tissues and infected semen. It can spread via infected milk and blood as well. Objects like bedding, shoes, clothing can also carry the infection from one dog to another. The Department of Public Health states that the bacteria spreads when there is a direct contact of the infected material with the eyes, nose mouth or broken skin of the dog. Humans also get infected by close contact with the infected dogs or contact with infected birthing fluids and materials. Veterinarians and dog breeders are thus the most vulnerable population in getting this infection, the Department of Public Health adds. Pregnant women, young children and elderly with a weak immunity are also at risk of getting this infection, they explain.

The Center for Food Security and Public Safety says that boiling infected clothing, bedding and use of disinfectants around the facilities can kill the bacteria and prevent spread. All areas exposed to infected dogs need to be properly cleaned and disinfected, they add. Sick dogs with the infection need to be quarantined from other dogs and their body fluids must be safely disposed. Before breeding all dogs need to be tested for canine brucellosis, they add.

At present no treatment provides complete cure from the infection and antibiotics are used to control the infection and prevent its spread. The Iowa Department of Public health, in their statement add that all animal handlers and humans who come into contact with the dogs need to wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks when handling an infected animal and reproductive tissues and fluids. Hands need to be washed after touching the dogs and other animals, they write. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship too recommend a visit to the veterinarian and a physician if symptoms of canine brucellosis are seen in the dog. They recommend hand washing after pet handling as an effort to “practice good biosecurity.”

AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport Inc. is an animal rescue organization at De Soto, Iowa. They have quarantined 32 dogs purchased at an auction from a breeder. These animals will be tested before they would be sent back. The organization in a statement on social media said, “We have not received any results yet. Therefore, we have closed our shelter building for the next 30 days. This is just one more reason to ADOPT and not SHOP! Please pray for our sweet babies that were finally getting the chance to have a happy life.”

Re-emerging scourge of canine brucellosis

In a review published last month (April 5th 2019) authors LK Kaufman and CA Peterson from Prairie View Animal Hospital, Grimes, and Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, respectively write about the re-emerging scourge of canine brucellosis. Their review titled, “Canine Brucellosis: Old Foe and Reemerging Scourge,” was published in the journal The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice.

The authors write about the scrouge of canine brucellosis for dog breeders because of the reproductive problems caused by the bacteria. They write, “Only within the last few decades has the risk of severe brucellosis in dogs, and the people who own and work with them, been more fully appreciated.”

The researchers caution that all dogs need to be mandatorily screened and tested for the infection before they are imported or cleared for interstate travel. They also suggest that all animals that tested positive for the infection need to be quarantined, and either through “spayed/neutered or euthanasia”. They point out that available treatments for this infection do not lead to complete cure and there is a risk of recurrence or “recrudescence” of the infection in the animal.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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