Saturday, 30 Sep 2023

Incurable dog disease on the rise and now three humans have caught it

Three people have tested positive for an incurable dog disease as cases rise following the influx of pets from Eastern Europe.

Brucella canis is a bacterial infection that can cause infertility, reproductive failure and a poor quality of life in dogs.

It is spread through bodily fluids, primarily reproductive fluids, and can be transmitted to humans. Symptoms in people include a fever, malaise, splenomegaly – an enlarged spleen – and peripheral lymphadenopathy, in which lymph nodes become abnormal in size, consistency and number.

The disease is incurable in dogs, with government policy recommending euthanasia. Humans can be treated with a long course of antibiotics.

A report by The Telegraph said all three people who contracted the disease did so through contact with dogs. The UK Health Security Agency told the paper there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

One individual who has tested positive, Wendy Hayes from Stoke, has called for a ban on imported pets. Ms Hayes told the paper she became infected from a pregnant foster dog from Belarus, and chose to put down all five of her own dogs to prevent the spread of the disease.

The number of dogs imported from Eastern Europe rocketed during the pandemic as demand for family pets outstripped demand – also leading to a sustained increase in dog thefts. The latest government data shows Romania tops the table for dog imports, with the number arriving in 2020 up 51% to 29,348 compared to 2019.

Of the Brucella canis cases reported in 2020, 2021 and 2022 with a known origin, more than half, 43, came from Romania.

Before 2020 the UK had recorded just three cases in dogs.

Testing for pets takes place at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Weybridge. Human testing is carried out by the Brucella Reference Unit (BRU) at the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

‘We have seen a small number of cases of Brucella canis in people in the UK this year,’ said Dr Wendi Shepherd, head of emerging infections and zoonoses at UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

‘However, the risk to the general public in the UK is very low and the risk to people who have had close contact with an infected dog is low.’

Speaking to The Telegraph, she added: ‘From the small number of cases of the infection that have been reported in humans worldwide, the infection is usually mild, but people who have weakened immune systems, are pregnant, or are young children may be more likely to experience more serious infection.’

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