Puppies are adorable and seem so innocent. But don’t be fooled by those big eyes and floppy ears: Despite their undeniable cuteness, they can carry a nasty bacteria that causes an infection which will make you miserable for a few days—a fact that 39 people across the U.S. can now confirm, unfortunately.
An outbreak of human Campylobacter infections have been linked to puppies sold through the national pet store chain Petland, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced early this week. The organization is investigating the link and says that cases linked to Petland puppies have shown up in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Among people who have gotten ill are 12 Petland employees from four states and 27 people who either recently bought a puppy at Petland, visited a Petland, or visited or live in a home with a puppy that was bought at Petland before they got sick, the CDC says. The first case was recorded in September of last year and, since then, nine people have been hospitalized as a result of the infection.
In a statement provided to SELF, Petland said that any dog can carry Campylobacter, and that the questionnaires the CDC used to find the link “were not consistent and didn’t ask the same questions related to type of food the dogs ate or other contact with dogs.”
“Petland immediately provided the CDC with complete access to our stores, our staff, our consulting veterinarians, our operating procedures, and our pets,” the statement continues. “The CDC has not identified any failures of Petland’s operating system that would lead to any Campylobacter infection.” The statement also said that the chain “reinforces proper hand sanitization before and after playing with any of our puppies with the many sanitation stations in each store and has strict kennel sanitation procedures and protocols put in place by consulting veterinarians.”
But, no matter the exact trail of the outbreak, it’s here.
Campylobacter infections (also known as campylobacteriosis) cause diarrhea, cramping, and fever, board-certified infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior associate at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. “The diarrhea sometimes contains blood,” he adds casually.
Although you may have never heard of it, the infection is actually one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the U.S., affecting an estimated 1.3 million Americans each year, according to the CDC. But most of the time it happens in isolated, sporadic cases.
The infection is spread when people ingest the bacteria, usually through contaminated meat or feces. Clearly, people aren’t running around eating poop, but in this case, Dr. Adalja suspects people handled dog poop or played with dogs that had some fecal matter containing the bacteria on their bodies and didn’t wash their hands afterward.
So it’s definitely possible to get a Campylobacter infection from dogs, but Dr. Adalja says it’s much more commonly passed on via raw or uncooked chicken. If you handle raw chicken and don’t wash your hands properly afterward or eat somewhere that doesn’t follow good hand hygiene, you’re at risk of getting a Campylobacter infection. Raw milk is also a potential source, which is why it’s better to drink pasteurized milk, Thomas Russo, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, tells SELF.
You don’t typically come into contact with Campylobacter and get sick immediately. The bacteria incubates in your body for up to seven days before you develop symptoms, Richard Watkins, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University and an infectious disease specialist in Akron, Ohio, tells SELF.
Most people who get campylobacteriosis get better within two to five days, the CDC says, but sometimes it can take up to 10 days to recover. Luckily, the infection usually just runs its course, makes you feel gross for a few days, and then leaves you to go about your life. But Dr. Watkins says that people with more severe cases or those who are pregnant or immunocompromised are given antibiotics. And, since campylobacteriosis involves diarrhea, it’s important to stay hydrated.
In general, people are just fine after having a Campylobacter infection. But in rare cases they may develop a condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects a person’s nerves several weeks after they have diarrhea, Dr. Adalja says. According to the CDC, Guillain-Barré causes your immune system to attack your nerves and cause paralysis that can last several weeks. But, again, it’s rare.
For the most part, you can steer clear of the infection by practicing good hand hygiene. That means washing your hands after you handle raw meat and making sure you cook your meat thoroughly before eating it, Dr. Adalja says. That also includes scrubbing up after you scoop up dog poop (even if you use a bag). “Whenever you handle pet feces you should wash your hands,” Dr. Adalja says. And it can’t hurt to also wash your hands after playing with dogs.
If you do get a Campylobacter infection, odds are that you’ll be fine (albeit a little uncomfortable for a few days). But check in with your doctor if you see blood in your stool, you’re pregnant, or don’t seem to be getting better within a few days. You and your good boy should be back in action soon enough.
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