An incurable canine disease, which can be transmitted to humans, is spreading among canines for the first time in the UK.
Brucella canis, a bacterial infection, can cause infertility, lameness, and pain in dogs.
Most cases in the UK have been isolated incidents among animals imported from areas such as Eastern Europe, where the disease is endemic.
But government experts today revealed they have detected the first known case of the disease spreading between animals in the UK, albeit at low levels. Authorities detected linked cases among dogs in kennels.
Only two people in the UK have been infected with Brucella canis as of July this year, health chiefs say. But cases among dogs have skyrocketed, with a record 91 already detected this year, officials say.
Brucella canis is a canine disease found mainly in animals imported from Eastern Europe, although it can also infect people (file image)
Dr. Christine Middlemisssaid the veterinary director of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Telegraph: ‘We have infected a case in the United Kingdom to another dog in the United Kingdom. It is through breeding in hatcheries.
‘There is not much, there is very little. But that’s new to us.”
These cases of Brucella canis native to the United Kingdom came from British dogs that had had contact with an imported dog or were descendants of an imported dog.
Human Animal Infection and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS), an intergovernmental group, today released a report on the risk posed by Brucella canis.
HAIRS found there is a “very low” risk of anyone in the population becoming infected.
However, dog breeders, people who work in veterinarians or kennels, and owners of infected dogs have a slightly increased risk of being exposed, although this risk is still classified as “low,” according to the HAIRS report.
The group also found that while the health risks of a Brucella canis infection were generally low, serious cases with life-threatening complications had been reported and immunocompromised people could be at higher risk.
Only two cases have been confirmed in people in the UK.
The first was detected after going to the hospital for symptoms, while the second was found in an asymptomatic person who worked at a veterinarian and who underwent routine tests after contact with an infected dog.
HAIRS recommended that dog breeders and charities importing dogs from abroad test for the disease before export.
They also advised that veterinarians treating dogs imported from abroad use appropriate PPE to help minimize the risk of potential infection.
Dr Middlemiss said the Government was considering introducing a mandatory testing requirement for dogs imported from Brucella canis hotspots.
“We are gathering evidence, various risk assessments are contributing to that evidence and we will consider it,” he said.
While Brucella canis infection is not a death sentence for animals, it is considered a lifelong disease with no cure.
This is because the bacteria behind the disease can remain dormant in the dog even after treatment, meaning they are still potentially infectious.
Therefore, the only way to guarantee the transmission of the disease is euthanasia.
HAIRS said the decision about euthanasia is a matter of the animal’s owner and their veterinarian and the willingness to accept the risks posed by continued exposure to the animal.
Brucella canis infections among dogs in the UK have been increasing.
In 2020 there were only 9 cases, but the number rose to 36 the following year and rose to 55 in 2022.
As of July this year, 91 cases have been identified in the UK, according to HAIRS.
Clinical information was available for 22 of the cases, with 19 dogs having no symptoms, one with spinal inflammation and another two with back pain.
All of these dogs, except one, had been imported into the UK and the majority came from Romania (14).
The remaining case came from a puppy at an unlicensed kennel in Wales, where 21 dogs were also subsequently found to have the infection.
All other cases found so far this year have occurred in imported dogs.
HAIRS said an increase in awareness of the disease among British vets, and therefore testing for it, is likely behind the rise in cases.
Signs of Brucella canis in dogs include infertility, swollen testicles in male dogs, lethargy, premature aging, and lameness due to back pain.
However, some dogs may not show obvious signs of infection.
In people, Brucella canis usually produces mild, general flu-like symptoms that can make diagnosis difficult.
The disease can also appear years after the initial infection and can sometimes recur recurrently for several years.
There have also been reports of dangerous complications resulting from Brucella canis infection in people.
These include serious infections of the heart, bones, brain tissue and blood. However, no fatal cases of Brucella canis have been recorded in humans.
Transmission of the disease between people is theoretically possible through routes such as blood transfusion, but there are no known cases of this in the medical literature.
Dr Middlemiss told MailOnline: “We continue to work closely with our UKHSA colleagues, dog welfare groups and veterinarians to minimize the risks posed and advise potential owners to ensure that any dogs imported from regions where Brucella is present canis be examined prior to arrival.