‘Rescuing a puppy abroad can be dangerous’

Vets recently established that a few dogs in the Netherlands which came from eastern Europe are infected with Brucella canis. This bacterium can make humans ill too. Although the risk is small, the government should take steps to prevent more infected dogs from entering the country, says Hendrik-Jan Roest of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research.
Tessa Louwerens

What kind of disease is this? ‘Brucella is a class of bacterium which does a lot of damage in the form of fertility problems, especially in farm animals. The Netherlands has been free of Brucella in farm animals for years now. Brucella canis, the dog variant, has now been identified in the Netherlands for the first time, in a few dogs from eastern Europe. The bacterium causes fertility problems in dogs too, and when it becomes chronic, inflammation of the joints. Sometimes the first symptoms only appear four or five years after the infection.’

Is it dangerous for humans? ‘Dogs can infect humans during premature births of infected puppies, and via saliva, urine and faeces. There have not been any human cases recorded in the Netherlands yet and the risk of infection is not huge. But it is not easy to assess that, because it can take a long time before symptoms show up. That is one of the things that make Brucella hard to diagnose.’

Should steps be taken? ‘We shall raise this subject at the monthly consultation on zoonoses (animal diseases transmittable to humans), SO-Z. Through this consultation, experts in veterinary and human health, among them Wageningen Bioveterinary Research, advise the government on the basis of a risk analysis. We must prevent more infected and sick dogs from entering the Netherlands. One option could be to put in extra import controls, as was done in the case of rabies. Antibiotic treatments are not 100 percent effective. The government could also consider having imported animals castrated and sterilized, because the bacterium occurs in sperm and you don’t want it spreading through the breeding population. People who are tempted to take a puppy home with them from another country should realise that they might be importing all kinds of diseases. It is well-intentioned but without knowing it you put people and animals in the Netherlands at risk.’

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