The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning the public about a multistate outbreak of Campylobacter bacterial infections that have been spreading through puppies from Petland retail stores.

The infected puppies have already caused the sickening of 39 people, and at least nine have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Image credit: It's Dog Training Time / The Odyssey Online
Image credit: It’s Dog Training Time / The Odyssey Online

The CDC said Monday the cases are all linked to puppies sold in seven states by Petland, the retail pet store. The federal health agency also noted the cases had been reported since September 2016 in seven states: Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Nine have been hospitalized after Campylobacter outbreak linked to sick puppies

Ohio has 18 cases, being the state with the most cases reported. The CDC said it’s closely working with the Ohio Department of Health to investigate the Campylobacter outbreak and its point of origin.

“Investigators are looking for the source of infections in people and puppies so they can recommend how to stop the outbreak and prevent more illnesses in order to protect human and animal health,” said the CDC in a statement.

As of today, 39 cases have been identified in the United States, with the most recent being reported on September 1, and the oldest being recorded on September 15, 2016. Contact tracing in the seven affected states found that each illness involved the same strain of the bacteria.

The CDC is also working alongside the health departments of the other states, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). Along with the 18 cases in Ohio, the CDC reports 11 cases were found in Florida, 5 in Kansas, 2 in Pennsylvania, and one case each in Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Twelve infected people are Petland employees from 4 states, while the other 27 either purchased a puppy at Petland, visited the store, or visited a home with a puppy sold through Petland before their illness began, according to the CDC. Patients range in age from younger than 1 to 64 years, with a median age of 22. Petland is also collaborating with the CDC in the investigation.

Campylobacter can be spread through dog feces

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Campylobacter, which is often spread through contact with dog feces. Most people who become ill with the disease get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the bacteria, according to the CDC.

Most cases are isolated, and not as part of an outbreak, says the CDC. The federal health agency says that some cases go undiagnosed, but an estimated 1.3 million people get the disease each year in the U.S.

Image credit: Seasons Medical
Image credit: Seasons Medical

The CDC didn’t say who supplied the dogs to the retail chain, but a 2009 investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States showed that almost every Petland store in the U.S. bought its dogs directly from puppy mills, according to Newsweek.

Puppy mills are commercial dog-breeding facilities known for their inhumane treatment of puppies and their unhygienic practices. The 2009 investigation also revealed Petland also bought the dogs through brokers who worked as middlemen between the retail stores and those facilities. Newsweek reports that in Florida, where 11 people were diagnosed with the disease, facilities supplying to Petland shops have been cited several times by the USDA for multiple health violations.

‘Pick a puppy or dog that is bright, alert, and playful’

Any dog or puppy can carry the bacteria, but not everyone shows signs of the disease. Since the infection can be silent, the CDC cautions pet owners to carefully wash their hands after cleaning up their dog, as the Campylobacter bacteria spreads through contact with dog poop. The CDC says it is unusual to get the disease from another person.

The CDC says people more likely to get a severe infection from the bacteria include those with weakened immune systems (people with HIV, with thalassemia, or patients receiving chemo), children younger than five years, adults 65 years or older, and pregnant women.

The agency also issued some recommendations for those who are going to get a new puppy or dog, including taking them to the veterinarian for a health check-up within a few days after their adoption.

“Pick a puppy or dog that is bright, alert, and playful,” recommends the CDC. “Puppies and dogs should have shiny, soft fur that is free of poop (feces).”

If your puppy or dog is showing signs of the disease (the symptoms are usually the same as in humans), contact your vet and take it for a check-up. It’s important that any dog feces or pee is cleaned immediately to avoid contamination.

Source: CDC