There has been a sudden and vast increase in the number of dogs with a disease called Brucellosis which can be transmitted from dogs to humans. With the surge in people buying and adopting dogs during the Covid pandemic lockdown, it is believed this increase in the number of cases of Brucellosis, is a direct result of this.
This 1900% increase in just the last 3 years has sparked concern and now health authorities and dog charities across the UK, are having to carry out further checks in order to try and control the spread.
Brucellosis is a type of bacterial disease derived from digesting under-cooked meat from an infected animal or unpasteurised milk. Sometimes it is referred to as Mediterranean fever or Malta fever. If dogs contract Brucellosis, it can be fatal to them and the majority found to be infected, have to be put to sleep. If a pregnant female has Brucellosis it can cause miscarriage and any puppies born or even born from a subsequent pregnancy, can die shortly after birth. Male dogs can also become infertile after contracting Brucellosis.
Fortunately for humans, the symptoms aren’t as serious, but are still very unpleasant. A fever, sweating, headaches, chills, back pains, fatigue and weakness are some of the symptoms, which can be treated with anti-biotics, however in rare cases, can continue for life. Pregnant women, children under 5 years old and those with a compromised immune system, could suffer much more chronic symptoms though.
Although it is rare for dogs to spread Brucellosis to humans, it is still possible and usually occurs when people come into contact with bodily fluid from an infected dog, usually discharge or birth fluid.
It’s no secret that the number of puppies and dogs both purchased and adopted during lockdown, rose exponentially. With so many people desperate for a dog, rescue and adoption centres saw a huge increase in people adopting a pet.
During 2017/2018, there were just 3 dogs that tested positive for the disease, compared to 60 in the last year. The majority of dogs that tested positive for Brucellosis were from rescue centres and were mainly dogs that originated from Romania. Just last year, the number of dogs imported from Romania rose from 19,480 to 29,348.
These dogs coming in from Romania often come into the country without any health records and even in cases where health testing is carried out, they don’t cover Brucellosis as it’s not a commonly found disease in the UK. Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, Daniella Dos Santos said, “These so-called Trojan dogs arrive in the UK often with no health records. Some charities carry out pre-import testing, but there’s no requirement to do so for diseases not commonly found in the UK. In some cases like Canine Brucellosis, there is an added risk for public health, including our veterinary teams who treat and handle these animals.”
Over 250 people have recently been tested for Brucellosis. Although, thankfully, no one has tested positive, The Dogs’ Trust and The British Veterinary Association are calling for the Government to make testing compulsory for all dogs being imported into the UK.
This has backing from Conservative MP and qualified vet, Dr Neil Hudson, who said, “We need more mandatory checks and people must take more care where they are sourcing their dogs from. The disease is incurable in dogs, and most have to be put down, and while humans can be treated with antibiotics, they are considered infected for life. We have to be very careful.”
The Government Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss, has also advised veterinary staff to ensure they’re wearing protective clothing when dealing with a dog with the disease and has warned all practices about its associated risks.
Anyone looking to adopt a dog has been advised to use a UK-based charity or adoption centre. The Veterinary Director for The Dogs’ Trust, Dr Paula Boyden said, “We don’t want to say we should not have these dogs, but we would like compulsory pre-screening of dogs. We are now doing a blanket screening of all imported dogs that end up in our rescue centres.”
With the Government introducing much tighter restrictions on the importation of dogs and puppies in a bid to stop puppy smuggling into the UK, it is hoped that this enhanced testing will also be introduced as part of the new legislation.