Brucella canis is a new zoonosis in the UK contracted from dogs

Wendy Hayes and her dogs
Wendy Hayes and her dogs. She wants to remain anonymous which is why the picture has been framed like this. Image: SWNS.

Brucella canis is a zoonosis. It is a zoonotic disease. It is a bacterial infection which can be transferred from animal to person. It has happened for the first time when Wendy Hayes contracted the disease from a rescue dog she was fostering in 2022. The dog came from Belarus. The disease is present in Eastern European dogs but after they’ve been imported into the UK the disease has been spread to UK dogs and then, on this first occasion, to Wendy Hayes who has made history in an unfortunate way.

At the time she had five dogs under her care and after she caught the disease they had to be put down to prevent further spreading of the disease. Since Wendy got the disease and has been cured of it through an extensive course of antibiotics, three other people have caught the disease in the UK.

This is a serious matter because this is a serious disease. Wendy had to go into isolation at hospital but she was allowed home later but after that nurses visited her home for 2 1/2 weeks to administer five different kinds of antibiotics over that period. And after that session of antibiotics she was still on two tablets three for four weeks. As I said, all the indications are that this is a serious disease that needs to be taken seriously.

The listed symptoms are fever, headaches, weight loss, meningitis, septicaemia and arthritis. Wendy was actually lucky because it was unlikely that standard doctors would be able to diagnose the disease but she happened to bump into a very clued-up doctor who suggested Brucella canis. He or she was correct.

Her greatest anguish came from putting down all of her dogs. She appears to be a dog rescuer and involved in fostering dogs from Eastern Europe. There is a body of people who do rescue dogs from Eastern Europe but this disease appears to have highlighted the dangers of that laudable process.

The newspapers say that 91 dogs have the disease or caught the disease in the UK in 2023. It has spread throughout the country’s canine population according to news media. Dr. Christine Middlemiss, chief veterinary officer at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We have had spread of a case in the UK to another dog in the UK. It is through breeding in kennels. There is not a lot – there is very little but this is new for us.”

The UK is rabies-free but Wendy believes that another serious disease such as this one is just around the corner waiting to happen. The country needs to test for it and there needs to be procedures in place to prevent what Wendy went through. Wendy hinted at the fact that there are some “bad rescues” in the UK exacerbating the problem. I think that she is hinting at the fact that there are people importing rescue dogs from Eastern Europe with this disease and that the rescues i.e. rescue centres where these dogs are kept are reservoirs for the disease or potentially reservoirs for the disease.

The Belarus dog that she was caring for aborted all her puppies which took 12 hours. That’s what the disease does to dogs. Initially they thought the dog might have rabies until they diagnosed Brucella canis. Wendy lives in the potteries region of Staffordshire and she suffered a high temperature, shivers, bad shakes and severe headaches. She also had a severe backache and low blood pressure. She is immunocompromised which meant that the disease hit her harder than normal.

Some more about Brucella canis from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (thank you)

It is also called canine brucellosis. It is clearly infectious and it can cause reproductive problems in both male and female dogs. Dogs don’t normally show signs of the disease. In other words, it is asymptomatic. But this can lead to the dogs developing illnesses later in their lives. The disease normally affects the reproductive organs causing miscarriages. It also causes joint pain and back pain due to swelling in dogs.

It is normally spread through infected fluids such as blood, urine and saliva. Wendy believes that she got the disease through birth fluids from the Belarus rescue dog. The biggest risk of exposure to the disease comes through breeding dogs and giving birth.

Pet passports

It is surprising to me that the dog which infected Wendy was allowed to be imported into the UK because there are strict procedures as I understand it and dogs imported into the UK should have a pet passport of sorts or travel documentation which indicates a clean bill of health. I’m not sure how Brucella canis was not spotted in this process. It clearly wasn’t. Perhaps some dogs are getting through from Eastern Europe into the UK illegally. That is my thought about this.

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