Multiple cases of dog disease that jumps to humans confirmed in Iowa

by NCN Health And Science Team Posted on May 15th, 2019

Des Moines, Iowa: A commercial dog breeding facility in Marion County, Iowa, is the confirmed site of several cases of a disease that can be transferred among dogs and to humans, called canine brucellosis.

The Iowa Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship is in the process of notifying individuals who bought exposed dogs from the breeder, said a Friday news release. In the meantime, animals there are quarantined while the dogs are being tested for the disease.

Canine brucellosis is highly contagious among dogs and causes severe reproductive problems. When spread to humans, a rare occurrence, it produces flu-like symptoms.

Here’s what else you should know about canine brucellosis:

What is canine brucellosis?

Canine brucellosis is an infection caused by the Brucella canis bacteria. It’s highly contagious between dogs, and can cause infertility, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths in dogs, according to the Iowa Department for Public Health.

It has been reported in North, Central and South America, and parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. It’s more often detected in breeding kennels than in households, as patterns of reproductive problems are more easily noticed and testing is more common, the department says.

It’s considered a “zoonotic” disease, or a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Although people can become infected by coming in contact with infected animals, it is uncommon for a person to get a brucellosis infection from a dog.

Breeders and veterinarians exposed to the blood or other secretions of infected animals are at an increased risk of developing an infection; pet owners are not considered to be at risk for infection because they are less likely to come in contact with blood, semen, or uterine discharges from an infected dog.

However, people with compromised immune systems should avoid contact with a dog that is diagnosed with brucellosis.

People who come in contact with breeding dogs, newborn puppies, or aborted fetuses should use caution and practice good sanitation. Whenever possible, wear disposable gloves before handling newborn puppies or cleaning an area where a dog has whelped. After removal of the disposable gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and rinse well.

What are the symptoms of canine brucellosis?

In addition to causing major reproductive problems in dogs, other symptoms in canines can include inflammation of lymph nodes, behavioral abnormalities, lethargy, and weight loss, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. Most infected dogs are asymptomatic, according to an Iowa State University report in 2018.

In humans, infection is rare, but can cause fever, sweats, headache, joint pain and weakness. Long-term infection can result in arthritis and recurring fevers. Less often, cases can involve the nervous system, eyes, or heart, the Iowa State public health center says.

How can a dog contract canine brucellosis?

Canine brucellosis is often spread among dogs through contact with infected birthing tissues and fluids, or with contaminated objects like bedding, clothing and shoes.

The bacteria is found in fluids like milk, blood and semen of infected dogs. Direct contact with other dogs’ eyes, noses and mouths, or breaks in the skin, can spread the bacteria among dogs, according to the Department of Public Health.

How can a human contract canine brucellosis?

While infection among humans is rare, the most common way people become infected is through frequent close contact with infected dogs, often through contact with birthing materials and fluids, according to the Department of Public Health.

People at highest risk of infection are veterinarians and dog breeders. Other people at risk are those with weak immune systems, young children and pregnant women.

How can I protect my animals from canine brucellosis?

The bacteria can survive for months in certain environments, but can be destroyed by heat and disinfectants, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Safety.

Other methods the center highlights include:

Clean and disinfect areas exposed to infected dogs and any of their fluids.
Keep sick dogs away from other dogs to avoid spreading the disease.
Testing dogs for the bacteria prior to breeding.
Antibiotics can help control the infection, but no treatment is completely effective at eliminating the bacteria, according to the VCA Hospitals website.

How can I protect myself from canine brucellosis?

While the bacteria is uncommon in humans, the Iowa Department of Public health recommends the following measures to people that will lower risk of infection:

Wear protective clothing like gloves and masks if handling reproductive tissues, like helping to deliver puppies.
Always wash your hands after touching animals.

What is the treatment for canine brucellosis?

Although antibiotics (most often minocycline or doxycycline, possibly enrofloxacin) can be used to help control the infection, no treatment is completely effective at eliminating the bacteria, and any dog that has been infected with B. canis should be considered to be infected for life. Even if the acute infection can be controlled with antibiotics, the dog may shed bacteria intermittently for the rest of its life.

“Any dog that has been infected with B. canis should be considered to be infected for life.”

Surgical sterilization of the infected dog will decrease shedding of the organisms into the environment, thereby reducing the risk to other dogs.

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