Ask the Doctors

Dear Doctor: We just got a new puppy, but I'm almost afraid to let my child play with it. I read a news story that said puppies have been linked to some sort of bacterial infection. What should I do?

Dear Reader: The news you're referring to is the outbreak of campylobacteriosis, an infectious disease linked to puppies purchased from Petland, a national chain of pet stores. Campylobacter bacteria is one of the most common sources of diarrheal illness in the United States. Although campylobacteriosis is most often associated with raw or undercooked meats, the bacterium can be present in the feces of dogs and cats as well.

What made this particular outbreak problematic was that the bacteria involved proved to be resistant to the first-line antibiotics that are most commonly recommended. This type of resistance is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization, the development of a bloodstream infection, or in extreme cases, treatment failure in patients.

The outbreak, which began in September 2017, eventually spread to 17 states. As of mid-December, laboratory tests confirmed illness in 97 people linked to this outbreak. And as of this writing, about 25 percent of them were hospitalized. No deaths had been reported.

If your puppy came from a Petland store (there are about 80 nationwide), you should contact the company. As requested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks these types of outbreaks, Petland will help you to determine whether your puppy is likely to have been infected.

The truth is that virtually every living creature, humans included, is a carrier of something that can be transmitted to the people (and animals) around them. While there is growing evidence that repeated contact with pets and farm animals can help to build up the immune system, it's important to be aware that potentially dangerous organisms can be transmitted as well.

Psittacosis, a respiratory infection caused by a bacterium, is sometimes seen among owners of pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and in poultry, like turkeys or ducks. The Toxoplasma parasite, sometimes found in cat feces, has an estimated 30 million carriers in the U.S. alone. (Most have no symptoms thanks to the immune system.) Roundworm, a parasite that at some point infects most dogs, particularly puppies, can also be transmitted to humans.

The point here isn't to alarm but rather to encourage good pet hygiene. With just a few easy steps, you can keep your family safe and go on to enjoy the multitude of benefits afforded by having a dog in your life.

-- Be meticulous about keeping your yard cleared of dog feces, picking it up as soon as possible.

-- Avoid physical contact with feces and urine by wearing gloves or using a sturdy pooper scooper while cleaning up.

-- When discarding feces into the trash, put it into an impermeable bag and tie it off.

-- Wash your hands when you're finished with scooping duties and after extended physical contact with your pet.

Finally, for your puppy's safety as well as your own, take him for regular veterinary visits, have his stool checked as needed, and make sure he's up to date on vaccinations.

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

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