A new study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases is warning pet owners and pet professionals about a previously uncharted risk. A strain of bacterium that affects dogs called Brucella canis can be spread to humans. The infection referred to as brucellosis is most often spread by livestock, but new research shows dogs that have not been neutered are responsible for passing the bacteria on to humans.
In adult dogs, the infection often goes unnoticed. According to VCA Hospitals, main symptoms include infertility, spontaneous miscarriages, and stillborn births. Male dogs that have been infected for long periods of time sometimes show signs of atrophy in the testicles. In certain cases, the bacteria goes on to infect the kidneys, brain, or spine.
Once the bacteria is passed from dog to human, the symptoms change. Humans diagnosed with brucellosis experience flu-like symptoms including fever, fatigue, headaches, and muscle pains. The infection also has potential to threaten human pregnancies. Martha Hensel, a veterinarian with Texas A&M University, explained to Pets WebMD that while not enough research has been done to give exact numbers on how prevalent the infection is in humans, the risks should be taken seriously. She said,
“We don’t really know how prevalent this disease is in the United States. The information we have to draw conclusions on the public health risk is outdated, to say the least—something like 30 to 40 years old.”
What researchers do know is anyone who frequently comes in contact with intact dogs is potentially at risk. This includes pet owners who have not neutered their dogs, dog breeders, veterinarians, and other pet professionals including groomers and kennel technicians. The bacteria is spread via contact with bodily fluids including genital secretions, urine, and saliva.
The good news is, healthy adults are unlikely to become infected unless they’re exposed to especially high levels of the bacteria. Those most at risk include children, senior citizens, people with compromised immune systems, and in some cases, pregnant women. Reports show several people with HIV have contracted brucellosis from infected dogs in recent years. There was also a 3-year-old child in 2012 who became infected after being exposed to an infected puppy bought from a pet store. A course of antibiotics is the typical treatment.
Hensel says until better diagnostic tools are developed, we won’t know exactly how common Brucella canis is in the United States. The best way to combat the infection is to be aware of the risks, be observant to catch possible symptoms, and to neuter your dogs.
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