Brucella Canis in the UK: Dogs, Disease, and Dangers to Humans – 2023

The issue of brucella canis in the UK has recently catapulted into the limelight following alarming news reports highlighting its crossover from canines to humans. However, recent incidents have underlined the gravity of this situation, with three UK residents contracting the disease. 

While experts reiterate that the general risk to the public remains low, the possibility of transmission to humans, given the spread of brucella canis in the UK, has naturally sparked widespread concern. This comes amid an observable uptick in the disease’s prevalence among dogs, notably those imported from Eastern Europe since the summer of 2020.

As pet owners and residents react with heightened caution, the timeliness and gravity of understanding this infection becomes more evident.

What is Brucella Canis?

The name brucella canis in the UK has been echoing through headlines, ringing alarms for dog owners and healthcare professionals alike. But what exactly is Brucella canis, and why is it causing such a stir?

Brucella canis (B. canis) is a contagious bacterial infection that is extremely contagious among dogs. Infected dogs frequently acquire a reproductive system illness or a sexually transmitted disease. Brucella species infect sheep, goats, cattle, deer, elk, pigs, and other animals.

Recent Cases of Brucella Canis in the UK

The unsettling rise of brucella canis in the UK has stirred the country’s serene pet community. Once a condition largely limited to dogs, it’s now ringing alarm bells due to its transmission to humans. Specifically, three individuals in the UK have been affected, with one poignant storey involving Wendy Hayes from Stoke-on-Trent.

Wendy, believed to be the first human case in the UK, contracted the disease from her rescue dog’s birthing fluids, leading to the heartbreaking decision to euthanise her five family pets. Addressing the issue, Shepherd stated, “Brucella canis is an infection carried by dogs that can be transmitted to humans.” She further emphasised that while a few cases of brucella canis in the UK infect people this year, the risk to the general public remains low.

Another case involved an asymptomatic vet worker, underscoring the stealthy nature of the infection in some human carriers. The surge in canine cases, especially those of brucella canis in the UK, is also concerning: from nine reports in 2020 to 91 cases this year. Significantly, many of these infected dogs have been traced back to Eastern European imports.

In response to this unfolding situation, the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) has flagged the disease as ‘low risk’ but emphasises the need for increased vigilance. With brucella canis in the UK rising, recommendations include proactive testing by dog breeders and charities importing dogs and using appropriate protective gear by veterinarians. This evolving health concern showcases the importance of monitoring, early detection, and informed preventive measures.

Effects on Dogs

Brucella canis in the UK, beyond its potential threat to human health, is primarily a canine concern, causing a range of symptoms in our beloved four-legged companions. As brucella canis in the UK continues to be a subject of concern, here are the most common effects:

  1. Pain

Dogs infected with Brucella canis in the UK often exhibit signs of discomfort. This discomfort can manifest in various ways, such as whining, restlessness, or reluctance to play or engage in usual activities.

  1. Lameness

A clear sign of the infection; affected dogs may struggle walking. This is not just a limp; it can range from a slight limp to a more pronounced reluctance to move or bear weight on one or more limbs.

  1. Infertility

A particularly distressing symptom, Brucella canis in the UK can severely affect a dog’s reproduction ability. Infected males may have inflammation of the reproductive organs, while females may experience spontaneous abortions.

  1. Lethargy

Infected dogs may exhibit signs of fatigue, showing less interest in play, activities, or even basic interactions. They might sleep more or just appear generally “down.”

  1. Premature Ageing

Some dogs with Brucella canis in the UK can exhibit signs that resemble premature ageing, like greying fur or increased sluggishness.

  1. Back Pain

While pain, in general, is a symptom, some dogs specifically show signs of back pain or discomfort, refusing to be touched or reacting negatively when their back area is handled.

How Humans Get Infected

Humans primarily contract brucella canis in the UK through direct contact with the fluids of an infected animal. Tragic incidents, such as that of Wendy Hayes from Stoke-on-Trent, highlight the potential risks. Hayes was believed to have contracted the disease from her rescue dog’s birthing fluids.

Impact on Humans

The metamorphosis of brucella canis in the UK from a canine to a human ailment has instigated significant concerns. According to Dr. Michael Pelly, an expert in zoonotic diseases, “While the majority of human cases are mild, the potential for severe complications, especially in vulnerable populations, cannot be downplayed.” The range of impacts includes:

  1. Typically Mild Symptoms

These might include low-grade fever, general fatigue, or mild muscle aches. However, even if the symptoms appear minor, they shouldn’t be dismissed, given the potential for severe complications.

  1. Severe Complications

The infection escalates to life-threatening conditions in some unfortunate cases, particularly among those with compromised immune systems. The following are the notable severe effects:

  • Meningitis

An inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, resulting in symptoms like severe headaches, neck stiffness, and sensitivity to light.

  • Septicaemia

A grave reaction where the bacteria enters the bloodstream, leading to rapid heartbeat, high fever, and chills.

  1. Latent Symptoms

For some, symptoms might not manifest immediately post-infection. It could take years for any signs to appear, and they might recur intermittently over several years.

  1. Potential for Blood-borne Transmission

While no known cases exist of the disease directly between humans, there’s a speculated risk via blood transfusion.

  1. Weight Loss and General Malaise

Some individuals have reported unexplained weight loss and a prolonged feeling of unwellness.

Prevention and Recommendations

Given the increasing concerns around brucella canis in the UK and its transmission from dogs to humans, health experts and authorities have proposed several preventive measures and recommendations. Here are the key points to consider:

  1. Testing for Imported Dogs

Prioritise testing for Brucella canis in dogs imported into the UK, especially from high-risk regions like Eastern Europe.

  1. Use of PPE for Veterinary Professionals

Vets treating imported dogs should consistently use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to minimise infection risk.

  1. Limit Direct Contact with Dog Fluids

Minimise exposure to potential sources of infection, such as birthing fluids, urine, and blood from dogs.

  1. Public Awareness Campaigns

Launch and support campaigns to raise awareness about Brucella canis, its symptoms, risks, and prevention techniques.

  1. Prioritise Vulnerable Populations

Emphasise and implement stricter preventive measures for high-risk individuals, including those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and children.

  1. Monitoring and Reporting

Promptly report any suspected Brucella canis cases to health authorities for early detection and management.

  1. Euthanasia as a Last Resort

In diagnosed dogs, consider euthanasia to control transmission while acknowledging its emotional implications.

Paws and People

The emergence of brucella canis in the UK has turned heads, impacting both our four-legged friends and their human counterparts. As cases mount, awareness and swift action have never been more critical. For those in the pet industry and dog owners, this isn’t just about canine health—it’s a broader call to protect our community.