Brucella Canis Cases On The Rise With 3 Recorded in the UK

brucella canis cases in the uk

Health experts have raised concerns as Brucella Canis, a bacterial infection primarily found in dogs, has been transmitted to humans in the UK for the first time. Three individuals are confirmed to have contracted the disease.

What is Brucella canis?

Brucella canis is a bacterial infection that, in dogs, can lead to infertility. While the infection is typically mild in humans, it can pose serious risks to individuals with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and young children.

The Current Situation

In the first quarter of 2023, 43 dogs in Britain were identified with the infection, marking a significant increase from the previous year. A notable number of these cases were found in dogs adopted from overseas, particularly Romania, through organisations specialising in rehoming.

That said, we are still unsure on the exact number of cases to exist in the country. A lack of awareness, testing and reporting are primarily to blame.

Brucella Canis Symptoms in Humans:

Common symptoms include the following: 

  • Fever 
  • Headache
  • Fatigue & muscle pains
  • Weight loss.

Severe cases can present with cases of: 

  • Arthritis
  • Meningitis
  • Septicaemia

Brucella Canis Symptoms In dogs

  • Reproductive failure
  • Lameness
  • Back or joint pain

How does Brucella Canis Spread?

The bacteria is primarily spread through fluids associated with breeding and birthing. Breeders and veterinarians are identified as the most at-risk groups for contracting the disease from infected dogs.

credit – the telegraph

How Can You Treat & Manage Brucella Canis?

While antibiotics can be administered to infected dogs, they do not guarantee a complete cure. 

The report from the government’s Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance group states that euthanasia is the most definitive way to eliminate the risk of transmission. 

However, decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. In situations where euthanasia isn’t chosen, neutering the dog and administering a course of antimicrobials is recommended.

What Do The Experts Say?

Wendi Shepherd, a leading figure at the UK Health Security Agency, emphasised that while there have been a few cases of Brucella canis in humans in the UK this year, the risk to the general public remains low. 

The infection is typically mild, but certain groups, such as those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and young children, might experience more severe symptoms.

Recommendations:

Experts strongly advise those importing dogs to test them for Brucella Canis before they enter the country to prevent further spread.

Reading the Government’s Official HAIRS Risk assessment, we summarise the following:

  • Inform high-risk individuals about the dangers and health impacts of B. Canis
  • Advise dog breeders and importers to test dogs from endemic countries before bringing them to the UK.
  • Veterinary professionals should be aware of the risk, especially for imported dogs.
  • Potential dog owners should be informed about the risks associated with dogs from endemic countries.
  • Vets should use personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling suspected cases and inform labs when testing for B. canis.
  • Positive canine results should prompt a review of human health risks, with guidance available on government websites.
  • The veterinary community needs advice on risk mitigation, especially since B. Canis is classified as a hazard group 3 human pathogen.

Probability of Infection of Brucella Canis

General UK population: Very Low

High exposure groups (e.g., dog breeders, vets, owners of infected dogs): Low

Impact on the UK Population: Generally Very Low to Low. Severe disease can occur, especially in immunocompromised individuals. However, specific risk factors for severe outcomes are not well-understood.

Evidence Gaps Include:

  • Incomplete surveillance of the disease in dogs globally.
  • Uncertainty about the disease’s endemicity in the UK dog population.
  • Limited global reports on human cases, leading to gaps in understanding risk factors.
  • Questions about the long-term effects of the infection in both humans and dogs.
  • Concerns about diagnostic testing accuracy for both species.
  • Potential emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains due to treatment.
  • Need for effective risk mitigation in veterinary settings.

Is Brucella Canis being introduced into animals in the UK?

Yes, Brucella Canis is being introduced into animals in the UK. The evidence quality is strong, here are some recent findings: 

  • Reports of B. canis in imported dogs have been increasing since July 2020.
  • Between 2020-2022, 100 distinct B. canis incidents were reported, involving 262 dogs, of which 143 tested positive.
  • In Q1 2023, 22 separate incidents were reported, with 43 out of 103 tested dogs being positive.
  • Clinical signs varied: 19 dogs showed no symptoms, one had discospondylitis, and two had spinal pain.
  • Most cases in 2023 were linked to imported dogs, predominantly from Romania.

Noteworthy Incidents:

One significant case in 2023 involved a puppy born in an unlicensed breeding facility in Wales, leading to 22 out of 82 associated dogs testing positive.

In Q2 2023, 48 more distinct incidents were reported, all linked to imported dogs.

Import Patterns:

  • Most diagnosed dogs were adopted from organisations specialising in overseas rehoming.
  • Commercial imports of dogs from Romania increased by 51% in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Due to disease risks linked to the Ukraine crisis, a temporary ban on commercial dog imports from certain countries, including Romania, was implemented in April 2022 but lifted in October 2022.

This leads us to conclude that the presence of B. Canis in the UK is on the rise, primarily due to the importation of dogs. Increased awareness and monitoring are crucial to manage and understand this trend.

Brucella-canis-dog-movements-by-country
Dog Movements By Country – citing Gov HAIRS data

In this graph, non-commercial movements refer to the transit of privately-owned pets, encompassing both those originating from the UK and those entering the UK from overseas. 

While in the past, these movements were facilitated using a Pet Passport, current regulations require UK pets to obtain a health certificate for each trip. 

It’s important to note that these movements aren’t without risks. Some of these pets might be travelling internationally for intentional breeding purposes, though exact figures on this are not available. 

Furthermore, there have been instances where the non-commercial guidelines are misused to import dogs for subsequent sale or adoption.

Raw Data – UK GOV dog Movements By Country
Year of movement20182019202020212022
Commercial movements*     
Bosnia and Herzegovina411741,6360
Bulgaria2162202221,0932,273
Croatia2651531532,0032,897
Cyprus3,5663,4574,2463,7583,190
Greece1072945631,017431
Hungary1,5852,1455,0654,5172,593
Republic of Ireland7,8287,3685,8146,6586,719
Poland8811,1603,9455,5931,271
Romania17,18919,48732,52538,08110,485
South Africa2795295191,522771
Spain4,9954,8916,4755,9094,845
USA2,4292,6041,592966672
Total from above (EU only)36,63239,17559,00868,62934,704
Total of commercial EU37,14439,56660,18872,76637,284
Total of commercial (rest of world)4,1694,9976,7645,5333,867
Total commercial41,31344,56366,95278,29941,151
Non-commercial movements     
Total of non-commercial movements (no country breakdown)312,996308,404186,629165,871282,909
Total dog movements354,309352,967253,581244,170324,060
UK Government Data for Dog Movement

What are the Control Measures for B. Canis Introduction?

The government suggests that there are no effective control measures currently in place. The evidence for this is considered “satisfactory”. 

  • Dogs arriving from B. canis endemic countries pose a continuous risk to UK’s canine and human populations. 
  • Identifying a country as B. canis endemic is challenging due to inadequate testing/reporting abroad. 
  • There’s no national mandate for safe sourcing or testing for B. canis from these countries. 
  • While some organisations now conduct pre- or post-import tests, the exact infection rate among imported dogs remains unclear.
  • The sudden rise in identified seropositive dogs since summer 2020 is unexplained. By 2021, increased awareness and legislative changes led to more diagnostic testing. As vets became more aware of the risks, testing rates grew, with APHA submissions rising from 1,001 in 2020 to 5,773 in the first half of 2023.
testing-submissions-of- brucella-canis
Raw Data – UK Government testing Data
YearNumber of submissions
20181,332
20191,192
20201,001
20212,596
20224,662
2023 (January to June)5,773
UK test submissions

Frequently Asked Questions on The impact on Human Health 

Is there Human-to-Human Spread? 

There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of B. canis, though theoretically possible in rare circumstances.

Is there a risk of Zoonotic Spread?

Yes, B. Canis is a recognized zoonotic disease, primarily transmitted through direct contact with infected dogs.

Is there a UK Animal Host Presence? 

Yes, with millions of dogs in the UK, many of which are imported.

Is there UK Human Susceptibility? 

Yes, especially among pet owners, children, and immunocompromised individuals.

What is the severity of the infection in humans? 

It Varies. Symptoms can range from mild (fever, headache) to severe (osteomyelitis, meningitis). No fatal cases have been reported, but treatment can be challenging, especially for pregnant individuals.

How infectious is Brucella Canis to Humans? 

Brucella Canis has a low infectious rate to humans. Despite the endemic nature in dogs, human cases are rare.

What is the impact on the UK population?

The impact on the UK population is low. Human cases are infrequent despite the disease’s prevalence in dogs.

Are there effective interventions against Brucella Canis? 

Yes. Antibiotics are effective for treating human brucellosis, though relapses can occur. Treatment options are limited for certain groups, like pregnant women.

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