Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 17, 2021

Pet store puppies cause big bacteria outbreak

By JAEMIE BENNETT | October 19, 2017


CC-BY-2.0/ Daniel Stockman The CDC said it is unusual for campylobacteria to be spread by puppies.











It is easy to forget, however, that dogs and puppies are animals, and animals have the potential to carry diseases. Recently an outbreak of campylobacteriosis has infected 55 people, and it seems to be coming from puppies purchased from Petland.

Petland, founded in 1967, is an international chain that sells pets and pet-related products. They have stores in Japan, South Africa, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador and 80 stores across the U.S.

The symptoms of Campylobacteriosis  usually present themselves two to five days after exposure and can include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

Since January 2009, there have been 13 outbreaks of campylobacteriosis associated with contact with dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Camplyobacteriosis is caused by the bacteria campylobacter, a relatively common infectious organism.

There are 1.3 million cases of diseases caused by campylobacter per year. Campylobacteriosis can also lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition where the body attacks the nerves and causes paralysis, which takes weeks in intensive care to heal.

According to the CDC, about one in 1,000 reported cases of campylobacteriosis which leads to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The first reported incident of the Petland outbreak of campylobacter was on Sept. 15, 2016, and the most recent incident occurred on Sept. 12, 2017.

The outbreak has caused 55 illnesses and 13 hospitalizations. It has spread to 12 states: Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Generally campylobacter cannot be spread through physical contact, but it can be spread through fecal or sexual contact. Of the 55 infected, 14 were Petland employees, 35 had direct contact with Petland puppies, four were exposed to puppies not directly from Petland, one had sexual contact with someone who had confirmed contact with Petland puppies and one was from an unknown source.

According to the CDC, this particular strain of campylobacter appears to be resistant to known medications.

“Clinical samples from people and puppies sickened in this outbreak appear to be resistant to commonly recommended, first-line antibiotics,” the CDC said, in an outbreak advisory.

However, campylobacteriosis does not generally require antibiotic treatment. Usually within a week, the body can neutralize the campylobacter and the person is no longer infected.

In dogs, infection may make them act sluggish, not hungry, have diarrhea and exhibit abnormal breathing. However it is important to remember that although a person or animal may not exhibit symptoms, they can still transfer the disease.

“The CDC has not identified any failures of Petland’s operating system that would lead to any campylobacter infection,” Petland said in their own news release.

Petland has been able to provide anytrace-back information on puppies that the CDC has requested and have provided the CDC with access to stores, staff, veterinarians, and their pets. Petland also mentioned that they have hand sanitation stations in every store and strict procedures for general sanitation.

In the aftermath of Petland’s campylobacter outbreak, there has been a surge of criticism by anti-commercial breeding operation groups. They argue that these so-called “puppy mill” operations are inherently unsanitary and cruel to the animals.

More than 200 cities and counties have enacted laws that prohibit stores from selling puppies sourced from puppy mills. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has called on states to protect their citizens and ban the use of commercial breeding operations.

Petland is now the only nationwide pet store that sells animals sourced from commercial breeding operations.

According to the CDC, although it is uncommon to see concentrated cases of campylobacteriosis, any dogs and puppies may carry campylobacter germs.

To prevent the spread of campylobacter, the CDC advises people to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of campylobacteriosis. They also recommend that those in contact with dogs and puppies wash their hands well after handling pets and properly sanitize and dispose of vomit and fecal matter.

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