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Bacterial dog disease spreads to humans in UK

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Three individuals in the UK have contracted Brucella canis, a bacterial infection typically found in dogs, as the disease begins to spread among canines within the country, as reported in today’s Daily Mail.

Brucella canis is a bacterial infection that, in dogs, can lead to infertility, lameness, and pain. It is considered incurable in canines. The UK Health Security Agency has confirmed these three human cases, marking the first instances of such infections in the UK. Additionally, it was reported that the disease is now spreading among dogs in the country, albeit at low levels. Previously, cases had been isolated among animals imported from regions where the disease is endemic.

Since 2022, three human cases of Brucella canis have been reported in the UK, coinciding with a significant increase in cases among dogs, with a record 91 cases already identified this year. Dr. Christine Middlemiss, Chief Veterinary Officer at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), noted  in the Telegraph that ‘We have had spread of a case in the UK to another dog in the UK. It is through breeding in kennels. There is not a lot – there is very little. But that is new for us’.

The human infections were linked to British dogs that had either come into contact with imported dogs or were the offspring of imported dogs. The disease is not currently considered endemic in the UK and is classified as low risk.

A report from the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group, which analysed the risk posed by Brucella canis, indicated that the overall risk of infection among the population is “very low.” However, individuals working in the dog care industry face a slightly higher risk due to their proximity to infected dogs.

While the health risks associated with Brucella canis infection are generally low, severe cases with life-threatening complications have been reported, particularly in immunocompromised individuals. The report recommended pre-export testing for the disease for dog breeders and charities importing dogs from overseas. It also advised veterinarians treating imported dogs to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the risk of infection.

Dr. Middlemiss indicated that the UK government is considering the introduction of mandatory testing requirements for dogs imported from regions with high Brucella canis prevalence. In dogs, Brucella canis infection is not fatal but is considered a lifelong disease with no cure. The bacteria responsible for the disease can remain dormant even after treatment, making euthanasia the only way to prevent its onward transmission.

Cases of Brucella canis infections in dogs in the UK have been on the rise, with just nine cases reported in 2020, 36 in 2021, and 55 in 2022. By July 2023, 91 cases had been identified. The majority of these cases were among imported dogs, particularly those from Romania.

The increase in reported cases is partly attributed to heightened awareness among UK veterinarians, leading to more frequent testing for the disease. Tests conducted for Brucella canis increased from 1,332 in 2018 to 5,773 between January and July of 2023.

Romania, a significant source of imported dogs into the UK, saw over 70,000 animals imported in 2020 and 2021. However, this number decreased to 10,000 in the following year due to concerns about disease transmission amid the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.

Brucella canis can manifest in dogs with symptoms like infertility, swollen testes in males, lethargy, premature aging, and lameness from back pain. Some infected dogs may exhibit no obvious signs. In humans, the disease generally presents mild, flu-like symptoms, making it challenging to diagnose. While severe cases with dangerous complications have been recorded, no fatal instances have been reported.

Brucella canis is not just an isolated problem; it forms part of a broader landscape of zoonotic diseases that pose potential risks to those who work closely with animals, as recently reported by GoFido here.

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