I’ve got the Brucella blues…and that’s no joke

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It’s easy to let infectious disease slide off the radar. Common things tend to occur commonly, and after all, this is Canada and the cold (and our political climate) keep us safe from most things, right? However, that type of thought process is true until it isn’t…and this latest news about canine brucellosis in Ontario (and now in Wisconsin: is a good example of an infectious disease cropping up while (or because) no-one was looking.

Savvy dog owners (and veterinarians) tend to think about reproductive system problems (e.g. infertility, abortion, weak puppies) in dogs with brucellosis. Although correct, part of the challenge with canine brucellosis is the bacterium’s (Brucella canis) ability to infect and spread in dogs without causing obvious signs of illness. Additionally, infected dogs (whether neutered or intact) can have other disease manifestations beyond the reproductive system. 

Unfortunately, like any number of infectious diseases, Brucella canis is zoonotic. This means that the 2 legged (i.e. humans) are at risk along with our K9 4 legged friends, and people who frequently have high levels of contact with infected dog body fluids (e.g. veterinarians, breeders, etc.) are at highest risk of disease. People with a weakened immune system (e.g., children, elderly, immunocompromised) are also at increased risk for infection. Further, brucellosis may not be on many human medical doc’s radars either. This is because it can cause variable and vague signs-plus it’s thought of as an animal thing...when it’s thought of at all.

At the moment, the heightened awareness of K9 brucellosis in Canada and the USA appears to be in:

1) dogs associated with commercial breeding facilities in parts of Ontario- and groups who obtain dogs from them, e.g. shelters, breeders in other parts of Canada, etc., and

2) dogs imported from South Korea that are currently being tested and quarantined- or being notified to be tested quarantined...the latter being a herculean task.

Other concerns surrounding brucellosis in dogs are that it’s near impossible to treat and cure-and it’s a challenge to diagnose. Typically, veterinarians begin with one test and if positive additional testing is required to ensure that a positive is a ‘true positive’, meaning that the dog is definitively infected. This is fairly critical because in certain scenarios (e.g. kennels, shelters) dogs who are positive tend to be euthanized due to risk of spread, inability to effectively (or practically) quarantine, public health recommendations, and cost concerns.

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For dog-owners (or soon-to-be dog owners), awareness of risks associated with dog importation (particularly from high risk regions) and ensuring your dog breeder is screening for brucellosis are important things to bone up on-and proactively ask about. Infectious diseases can (and do) occur globally, and they should always rank on the ‘DAMN-IT’ list of considered diagnoses for those of us accountable for human and animal health.

Ultimately, awareness and education are what’s needed to reduce risk and further spread of this pathogen…and until that (& additional ID and quarantine of currently infected dogs) happens… we’ll all be howling the B.canis blues.