DEC 20, 2019 1:01 PM PST

Outbreak of Drug-Resistant Infections Linked to Pet Store Puppies

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning people about an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria that’s been linked to store-bought puppies. As of their last investigative report on December 17, 2019, in thirteen states, thirty people have been sickened and four have been hospitalized because of an infection with multidrug-resistant Campylobacter jejun. The illnesses began on January 6, 2019 and were ongoing as of November 10. It takes time for people to get sick and the illness to be reported, so there may be more cases.

Most cases were linked to puppies that had been purchased from a store called Petland. About 88 percent of the ill people had contact with a puppy in the week before they got sick, and 71 percent of them said that the contact involved a puppy from a pet store. There were eight cases in which people had been diagnosed with a Campylobacter infection and had contact with a puppy, but they were not included in the CDC case count because there was no bacterial sample that could be used in a whole genome sequencing analysis for confirmation.

The CDC has advised individuals to wash their hands with soap and water thoroughly after touching a puppy or dog, after handling pet food, and after cleaning up their messes. They noted that people should not let dogs lick their face, open wounds or broken skin. Hand sanitizer should be used if soap and water isn’t readily available. They stressed that new puppies or dogs should be taken to a veterinarian within a few days of bringing them home, and then regularly after that to prevent illness and the spread of disease.

Puppies or dogs that are sick might appear tired, may not want to eat, might have diarrhea, or breath abnormally. If a pet gets sick, the area that they’ve occupied should be cleaned with a bleach and water solution.

If people get sick because of Campylobacter bacteria, they often get stomach cramps, diarrhea, and a fever within two to five days of exposure. The illness lasts for about a week, and usually, people are able to fully recover without needing antibiotics. People with weak immune systems may need antibiotics, however.

The CDC performed DNA fingerprinting (described in the video below) on samples obtained from the sick individuals, which involves sequencing the whole genome of the pathogenic bacteria. A national database of these sequences is maintained by a system called PulseNet, which helps identify outbreaks of disease. The analysis showed that the pathogenic Campylobacter bacteria were genetically related; infected patients are therefore more likely be sickened from a common source. It also revealed similarities to another outbreak of Campylobacter infections that occurred from 2016 to 2018 and was also connected to puppies from pet stores.

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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