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Warning as rare dog disease transfers to humans in UK

Brucella canis, a bacterial infection that causes pain, lameness and infertility in canines has now infected three people

Athena Stavrou
Wednesday 20 September 2023 09:12 BST
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Brucella canis has spread from dogs to humans in the UK (stock image)
Brucella canis has spread from dogs to humans in the UK (stock image) (Pawfit)

Three people in the UK have caught a disease usually confined to dogs.

Brucella canis, a bacterial infection that causes pain, lameness and infertility in canines has now infected three human Britons.

The incurable disease spreads through contact with an infected animal’s fluids and while usually mild in human cases, can result in meningitis and septicemia.

Wendy Hayes, from Stoke-on-Trent, is believed to be the first person to be diagnosed with the infection in the UK last year.

Have you been affected by this story? If so contact athena.stavrou@independent.co.uk

She was forced to put down her five family dogs after she contracted the disease through her rescue dog, Moosha’s, birthing fluids.

A second person with the infection worked at a vets but had no symptoms and was identified through routine testing.

Since summer 2020, there has been an increasing number of reports of Brucella canis infection in dogs; the majority of which have been directly imported into the UK from Eastern Europe.

Wendy Hayes was forced to put down her five family dogs after contracting Brucella canis from her rescue dog in May 2022 (Wendy Hayes / SWNS)

Wendi Shepherd, Head of Emerging Infections and Zoonoses at UKHSA, said: “Brucella canis is an infection carried by dogs that can be transmitted to humans. 

“We have seen a small number of cases of Brucella canis in people in the UK this year. However, the risk to the general public in the UK is very low and the risk to people who have had close contact with an infected dog is low.

“From the small number of cases of the infection that have been reported in humans worldwide, the infection is usually mild, but people who have weakened immune systems, are pregnant, or are young children may be more likely to experience more serious infection.”

The number of cases in dogs rose from just nine in 2020 to 91 being spotted already this year.

Although not always life-threatening in dogs the disease is incurable so the only way to control transmission is euthanasia.

Signs of the disease in dogs include lethargy, premature aging and back pain but some dogs appear asymptomatic.

No fatal cases have been reported in humans but possible symptoms can include fever, headaches, weight loss and in more severe cases it can cause meningitis, septicaemia and arthritis. Symptoms of the infection can take years to present themselves and may return over several years.

There are no known cases of the disease transmitting between humans, but it is thought to be possible via blood transfusion.

A report published on Monday by the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) suggested that although the disease is considered ‘low risk in the UK’, it is recommended that dog breeders and charities importing dogs from overseas should carry out testing for the disease.

They also advised that vets treating imported dogs should use appropriate PPE to minimise risk of infection.

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