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Dog-to-human infection sparks off health fears

PUBLIC HEALTH officials and vets have been warned to look out for a potentially serious disease which can spread from dogs to humans, following the first recorded case of the infection in Britain. Brucella canis, endemic in other parts of the world, can cause flu-like symptoms in people, including fever and fatigue and, in some rare cases, damage to the heart lining. The condition usually responds to antibiotics.

Officials last week praised the actions of vets in Caversham, Berkshire, who raised the alarm after treating the pet of a Spanish family which had travelled from the US. The dog spent six months in quarantine, but the disease had not revealed itself. The vets, and officials from the veterinary laboratories agency, reported the case in the Veterinary Record, the profession's journal.


They said brucellosis should be considered in any animal from an endemic area which displayed signs of spinal or urinary tract disease. Owners and dog breeders should be warned of the possibility of catching the disease.

James Dunne, who examined the dog at the Oakley veterinary clinic, suspected the disease after x-rays for an apparent slipped disc revealed unusual signs of infection. He sent blood samples for tests and recommended neutering the dog, because the bacteria responsible are found in the reproductive organs. Samples confirmed B canis. The dog responded well to antibiotics and had since been to Spain and back, this time under the pet passport scheme which avoids quarantine.


Mr Dunne said the incident raised concerns over the increased travel of animals from foreign countries. "Regardless of the dog being quarantined, it still managed to bring disease into Britain. I think we have managed to catch something that could have slipped away from us."

Robert Smith, a clinical scientist with the public health laboratory service in England and Wales, said: "Making vets and health professionals aware of this is a very important step."

Infection of stray dogs could cause difficulties, but well-looked after pets should not pose a hazard to owners, particularly if vets were on the lookout, he said.

A similar infection causing abortions in cattle was endemic in mainland Britain until the late 1970s and is still present in Northern Ireland. In England and Wales, there is less than one human case a year. There are also about half a dozen human cases a year of another related animal disease in sheep and goats, usually among visitors or Britons with relatives in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries. It can be contracted through unpasteurised milk or cheese.