Canine brucellosis: What you need to know about the dog disease that can spread to humans

Shelby Fleig
After state officials confirmed cases of the disease at a breeding facility in Marion County, here's what you should know about Brucella canis.

DES MOINES, Iowa  A commercial dog breeding facility in Marion County, Iowa, is the confirmed site of several cases of a disease that can be transferred among dogs and to humans, called canine brucellosis. 

The Iowa Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship is in the process of notifying individuals who bought exposed dogs from the breeder, said a Friday news release. In the meantime, animals there are quarantined while the dogs are being tested for the disease.

Canine brucellosis is highly contagious among dogs and causes severe reproductive problems. When spread to humans, a rare occurrence, it produces flu-like symptoms. 

Here's what else you should know about canine brucellosis:

Canine brucellosis: Disease that can be transferred from dog to human confirmed in Iowa, officials say

What is canine brucellosis?

Canine brucellosis is an infection caused by the Brucella canis bacteria. It's highly contagious between dogs, and can cause infertility, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths in dogs, according to the Iowa Department for Public Health

It has been reported in North, Central and South America, and parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. It's more often detected in breeding kennels than in households, as patterns of reproductive problems are more easily noticed and testing is more common, the department says.

It's considered a "zoonotic" disease, or a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

What are the symptoms?

In addition to causing major reproductive problems in dogs, other symptoms in canines can include inflammation of lymph nodes, behavioral abnormalities, lethargy, and weight loss, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. Most infected dogs are asymptomatic, according to an Iowa State University report in 2018.

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In humans, infection is rare, but can cause fever, sweats, headache, joint pain and weakness. Long-term infection can result in arthritis and recurring fevers. Less often, cases can involve the nervous system, eyes, or heart, the Iowa State public health center says.

How can a dog contract it?

Canine brucellosis is often spread among dogs through contact with infected birthing tissues and fluids, or with contaminated objects like bedding, clothing and shoes.

The bacteria is found in fluids like milk, blood and semen of infected dogs. Direct contact with other dogs' eyes, noses and mouths, or breaks in the skin, can spread the bacteria among dogs, according to the Department of Public Health.

Veterinarian assistants Yanitsia Gonzales, left, and Nicola Feliciano examine a rescued beagle at the The Lehigh County Humane Society in Allentown, Pa., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Animal welfare workers removed 71 beagles from a cramped house in rural Pennsylvania, where officials say a woman had been breeding them without a license before she died last month. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

How can a human contract it?

While infection among humans is rare, the most common way people become infected is through frequent close contact with infected dogs, often through contact with birthing materials and fluids, according to the Department of Public Health.

People at highest risk of infection are veterinarians and dog breeders. Other people at risk are those with weak immune systems, young children and pregnant women.

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How can I protect my animals?

The bacteria can survive for months in certain environments, but can be destroyed by heat and disinfectants, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Safety.

Other methods the center highlights include:

  • Clean and disinfect areas exposed to infected dogs and any of their fluids.
  • Keep sick dogs away from other dogs to avoid spreading the disease.
  • Testing dogs for the bacteria prior to breeding.

Antibiotics can help control the infection, but no treatment is completely effective at eliminating the bacteria, according to the VCA Hospitals website.

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How can I protect myself?

While the bacteria is uncommon in humans, the Iowa Department of Public health recommends the following measures to people that will lower risk of infection:

  • Wear protective clothing like gloves and masks if handling reproductive tissues, like helping to deliver puppies.
  • Always wash your hands after touching animals.

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Follow Shelby Fleig on Twitter: @shelbyfleig

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Canine brucellosis: What you need to know about the dog disease that can spread to humans