The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that pet store puppies appear to be making people sick by transmitting a dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacterium.
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The agency says an outbreak of the multi-drug resistant bacterium Campylobacter jejuni has made at least 30 people sick across 13 states.
"Four people have been hospitalized," said the CDC, although "no deaths have been reported."
Cases have been reported throughout the year and from East to West - in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Utah.
Many said they had touched a puppy in a pet store
So far, of 24 people interviewed, most (21) said they had recently come into contact with a puppy, and, of those, most said it was in a pet shop.
"Interviews with ill people and laboratory evidence indicate that contact with puppies, especially those from pet stores, is the source of this outbreak," warned the CDC.
Is any particular pet store chain involved?
No single pet store chain has yet been linked to the outbreak, but 12 of 15 people who reported contact with a puppy in a pet store said it happened in the Petland chain. Five of them also worked for the company.
Petland has said in a statement that more than one-third of the affected individuals lived in places where it does not have stores.
"Petland takes the health and welfare of our employees, our customers and our pets very seriously," the company said. "Since an earlier outbreak in 2016, in which no specific source of infection was identified, Petland has implemented all recommended protocols from federal and state animal and public health officials to prevent human and puppy illness."
How is the infection transmitted?
The CDC says Campylobacter bacteria can be transmitted through contact with the feces of infected animals and contaminated food or water.
"Puppies and dogs can carry Campylobacter germs that can make people sick, even while appearing healthy and clean. People who own, work with or come in contact with puppies or dogs should take steps to stay healthy," the agency warns. People should remember to wash their hands thoroughly after touching or cleaning up after the animals or coming into contact with their waste or food in any way.
The infection usually causes diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps that begin two to five days after transmission. Although the infection can be serious, people usually recover, even without taking antibiotics.
"One of the biggest challenges is this antimicrobial resistance"
Jeanette O'Quin from Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine says a multi-drug resistant outbreak such as this is more difficult to treat, more expensive to manage, and more likely to require hospitalization.
She adds that the resistance indicates that these particular bacterial strains have been exposed to a lot of antibiotics, repeatedly and over long periods of time.
It's a continuous problem. One of the biggest challenges is this antimicrobial resistance. This is what raises a lot of concern… it's alarming."
Jeanette O'Quin, Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine
The investigation is ongoing
The CDC notes that the bacterial strain from this outbreak appears to be linked to a strain that caused a similar outbreak in 2016 - 2018 that was also linked to pet store dogs.
The agency says the investigation is ongoing and that it will provide updates when more information is available.