CDC Investigating Multistate Outbreak of Drug-Resistant Infections Linked to Pet Store Puppies

Over two dozen people have fallen ill—including four hospitalized—due to a multi-state drug-resistant infection outbreak linked to pet store puppies, health officials have said.

A total of 30 people have been infected by Campylobacter jejuni across 13 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on Tuesday. No deaths have been reported.

The sick range from eight months old to 70 years old, with cases spread across Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. The dates when the illnesses began range from January 6 of this year, to November 10.

The CDC said it is working with public health officials across the affected states to investigate the outbreak, which is believed to have been caused by contact with puppies—"especially those at pet stores."

Of the 24 individuals the authorities have spoken to, 21 had contact with a puppy, with 15 involving a pet store. Some 12 of those 15 cases were tied to the Petland chain, including 5 employees. Officials have not identified a single common puppy supplier linked to the outbreak.

"Illnesses might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported," the CDC stated.

The Campylobacter bacteria identified in the outbreak are resistant to commonly-used antibiotics, the CDC said.

In humans, the Campylobacter infection can cause a fever, diarrhea—which is often bloody—as well as stomach cramps. These symptoms appear between two to five days after the person comes in contact with the bug, and last for around a week. Most people don't require antibiotic treatment, according to the CDC, but those with severely weakened immune systems may need such drugs.

The health institute warned pet owners puppies and dogs can carry Campylobacter "even while appearing healthy and clean."

The bug is related to bacteria that caused a separate multi-state outbreak of Campylobacter between 2016 and 2018, involving 113 cases and 23 hospitalizations.

Anyone who touches a puppy or dog, handles their food, or cleans up after them—including their urine or feces— is advised to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. Dry your hands using a clean paper towel or air dry, not on clothing. In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer can be used, the CDC said. Adults should watch children while they wash their hands.

Dog urine, feces and vomit should be cleared up immediately, and the area disinfected with water and bleach.

The CDC advises against letting dogs lick your face and mouth, open wounds, or broken skin. Dogs should also be taken to the vet regularly to have their health checked and to prevent the diseases they might carry from spreading.

On Monday, Petland release a statement on the CDC update.The organization said the specific Campylobacter strain did not originate at any specific Petland store. "Upon receipt of relevant information, Petland will endeavor to determine the sources of infection, and will, in the meantime, remind all employees of the importance of sanitation and hygienic practices to keep people and pets safe," it said.

"Petland takes the health and welfare of our employees, our customers and our pets very seriously. Since an earlier outbreak in 2016, in which no specific source of infection was identified, Petland has implemented all recommended protocols from federal and state animal and public health officials to prevent human and puppy illness," the company stated.

Mark Laughlin, a veterinary medical officer at the CDC, told Newsweek: "Puppies and dogs can bring many benefits to people, but they also can carry germs that make people sick. This outbreak of Campylobacter infections underscores the importance of taking steps to keep yourself and your family healthy when you come into contact with puppies and dogs."

Petland did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.

This article has been updated with comment from Mark Laughlin.

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A stock image shows a dachshund puppy being held by its owner. It's unclear which breeds were involved in the multi state outbreak of infections.