Pet puppies can be cute and cuddly, but they may also carry a pathogen that can make people very sick, researchers from the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention have warned.
In a report published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on September 21, Mark Laughlin, a CDC veterinarian officer, and colleagues showed that an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter infections in 2017 and 2018 was linked to pet store puppies.
The outbreak infected more than 118 people in 18 states. While no one died, 26 were hospitalized. Of those who were sickened by the bacteria, 29 were pet store employees. Laughlin said that it is possible many more fell ill, but they were not sick enough to seek help from a doctor, or doctors did not report the cases.
The report said that samples of the bacteria taken from patients showed resistance to antibiotics commonly used to treat Campylobacter infections, which include quinolone and macrolides.
"The investigation of this outbreak revealed widespread administration of multiple antibiotic classes, including all classes to which the outbreak Campylobacter strains were resistant," the CDC report reads.
CDC did not name the pet stores involved in the outbreak, but the pet store chain Petland was implicated in initial outbreak notifications.
Campylobacter is a common bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. It is usually linked to eating raw chicken or food that is contaminated by chicken juices.
Marc Siegel of NYU Langone Medical Center reports that the bacteria is often spread from fecal waste. This explains why it is commonly found among chickens, because of how the birds are raised.
The same thing may have happened in puppies sourced from puppy mills and pet stores, where the animals may have been in close contact with each other.
"These dogs are raised in close quarters with lots of opportunity for them to mix and co-mingle, so there's lots of opportunity for germs to spread among these dogs," Laughlin explained to HealthDay.
Most people recover from a Campylobacter infection within five days without treatment, but infection could become serious, and possibly lead to paralysis or death in patients with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, babies, and those with severe illnesses such as cancer.
The CDC urged pet stores to practice in-store hand sanitation and education. It also advised pet owners to contact their veterinarians if they see any sign of illness in their pet dog or puppy.