A devastating canine illness has popped up in the Midwest. It has the potential to spread to humans.
In a statement, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship confirmed multiple cases of the disease known as canine brucellosis in Marion County, Iowa.
The outbreak is believed to have originated from a commercial breeding facility for small dogs.
Both the facility and any potentially exposed dogs have been quarantined.
Keely Coppess, the communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, confirmed to Healthline that both the quarantine and investigation into the source of the outbreak are ongoing.
She said the total number of cases at this time is unknown, but a statement would likely be forthcoming in the weeks ahead to address the state of the outbreak.
Canine brucellosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Brucella canis, which affects dogs’ reproductive systems.
In female dogs, it results in infertility, spontaneous abortion, and stillbirth. In male dogs, it can cause low sperm counts or orchitis, a painful infection of the testicles.
The disease is spread through the bodily fluids of dogs, particularly reproductive fluids, such as semen and vaginal discharge. As such, it can be spread to puppies during pregnancy and birthing.
“Spread can come from any bodily fluid from an infected pet. It may also come with contaminated objects. If infectious material is on a blanket and the blanket is given away with a puppy to a new family, we have a source of transmission,” said Greg Nelson, DVM, director of surgery and diagnostic imaging at Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, New York.
Canine brucellosis is also a zoonotic disease. This means it can spread across species from dogs to humans, although such an infection is highly unlikely.
According to Coppess, transmission from a dog to a human is uncommon in general pet ownership situations. That risk is increased during breeding and birthing because of the presence of fluids through which it’s commonly transmitted.
Therefore, breeders, veterinary staff, or those involved in the birthing process have a heightened risk for infection.
Experts estimate there are between 100 and 200 cases of brucellosis reported in humans in the U.S. every year. Common symptoms in humans tend to appear flu-like and include fever, sweating, headache, joint pain, and fatigue.
Individuals with weakened or compromised immune systems, including young children, pregnant women, or those with HIV, have a greater risk for developing more severe symptoms.
A report from Iowa State University cautions that there’s the potential for women to give birth prematurely or miscarry if exposed.
In dogs, the disease can be difficult to diagnose. Once infected, a dog will likely carry the bacteria for life.
The disease is believed to be underreported in the medical literature because many dogs can be asymptomatic, and the presence of the bacteria in the bloodstream can be difficult to detect.
Antibiotics are the most common treatment for brucellosis for both animals and humans.
However, there’s no 100 percent effective treatment for dogs. Neutering or spaying may help in mitigating spread of the disease.
Due to the contagious nature of the disease and the difficulty of curing it, in some cases a dog may have to be euthanized.
“Antibiotics can control it to a degree but never eliminate it. Spaying or neutering can only control it but never reduce it… The only way to eliminate it from a breeding household is to remove the pet from the home or euthanize,” Nelson said.
State health officials in Iowa have confirmed multiple cases of the dog disease canine brucellosis. It’s highly contagious and spreads through bodily fluids, particularly reproductive fluids, including semen and vaginal discharge.
Canine brucellosis affects dogs’ reproductive systems, resulting in infertility, spontaneous abortion, and stillbirth.
It’s also zoonotic, meaning it can infect humans, although the chances of infection are low. Veterinary staff, dog breeders, and those involved with birthing puppies have a higher risk for infection.
The disease can be hard to diagnose in dogs because they can frequently have no apparent symptoms.
In humans, symptoms may appear flu-like in nature, including chills, fever, and fatigue. Experts say there’s the potential for serious complications in pregnant women, such as miscarriage or premature birth.
Humans can be treated with antibiotics. There’s no completely effective treatment for dogs, and most will carry the bacteria for life.
Spaying and neutering are recommended to prevent transmission, but in some cases, dogs need to be euthanized.