Incurable Deadly Bacterial Infection Has Spread to Humans From Dogs in UK, 2 Cases reported

Brucellosis, a disease typically found in dogs, has recently made its way to humans in the UK, with two confirmed cases reported. This illness, caused by Brucella canis, was previously limited to imported dogs but has been spreading among local canines since 2020.

Human Infection Emerges

“As of July 2023, 2 laboratory-confirmed cases of B. canis human infection have been identified in the UK.” 

Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance group report

One case was detected when an individual presented with clinical symptoms at a hospital. The second case, although asymptomatic, identified through contact tracing of individuals exposed to positive dogs. In both instances, the dogs involved were not initially known to be infected but later tested positive for the disease.

This outbreak among UK-native dogs is believed to be linked to breeding in kennels, where contact and mating occur between imported dogs or their offspring. Eastern Europe is the home for B. canis, especially in countries like Romania. Romania is the primary source country for importing many dogs to the UK.

Transmission and Symptoms

B. canis transmitted among dogs through genital, conjunctival, and oronasal mucosae during social interactions, grooming, and sexual activities. 

The disease has an incubation period ranging from weeks to years. In humans, symptoms may include fever, headaches, and muscle pain. And some rare complications such as endocarditis, arthritis, meningitis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Fortunately, there have been no recorded human deaths from this disease.

“There are no reports of human-to-human transmission of B. canis, although this is theoretically possible as blood transfusion, organ transplantation, and transmission via contact with reproductive tissues have been reported for other Brucella species, although in very limited numbers.”

Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance group report

Preventative Measures

To prevent the further spread of the disease among dogs, the UK government is considering implementing B. canis screening to identify infected animals before they enter the country. Due to the bacterium’s resistance to antimicrobial treatment, the only foolproof method to prevent an infected dog from transmitting the disease is euthanasia.

“Euthanasia of infected dogs is considered the only way to remove the risk of future onward transmission completely.”

Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance group report

However, the decision to euthanize is ultimately up to the owner and their private veterinary surgeon, who may also consider neutering and concurrent antimicrobial treatment if euthanasia is not chosen.

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