Puppies Might Be Causing A Diarrheal Illness Outbreak in Seven States

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Who knew something so cute could cause so much diarrhea?

An outbreak of Campylobacter bacteria — aka an infection that causes lots of diarrhea — has been linked to puppies sold at pet store chain Petland. It’s caused at least 39 people across seven states to get sick.

On Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it is investigating a multistate outbreak of human Campylobacter bacteria linked to puppies sold Petland stores. Petland is a national pet store chain (not to be confused with Petland Discounts, a separate chain that operates in only three states).

The illnesses associated with the outbreak date back nearly a year to Sept. 2016, and have affected people in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

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The CDC reported that those affected range in age from 1 to 64. Nine people have been hospitalized, but there haven't been any reports of deaths. Laboratory evidence indicates that Petland stores are likely to be the source of the outbreak, but additional laboratory results from people and dogs are pending. According to the CDC, Petland is cooperating with health officials.

In a statement published on Sept. 11, sent to BuzzFeed News from Petland's director of public affairs via email, the company said that “the CDC has not indicated any failures of Petland’s operating system that would lead any Campylobacter infection” and that the company reinforces proper hand sanitation before and after handling any puppies, and has strict kennel sanitation protocols.

Campylobacter is a common cause of diarrheal illness in the US.

Campylobacter is a common cause of diarrheal illness in the US.

Campylobacteriosis is the infection caused by the Campylobacter bacteria, and it infects up to 1.3 million people each year. “The typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever, nausea, and abdominal cramping. But some people who get infected, especially healthy adults with robust immune systems, might not have any symptoms at all,” Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of Microbiology and Pathology at NYU Langone told BuzzFeed News.

The illness usually lasts for one week and almost all people recover without any specific treatment. “The immunosuppressed, such as HIV-positive individuals or cancer or transplant patients, might experience more severe symptoms or develop an infection that requires medical treatment,” Tierno says. Pregnant women, young children, and the elderly are also more susceptible. And in very rare cases, it can be fatal, says Tierno.

In either case, you won’t know if you have Campylobacter unless you get examined by a doctor. “Many people will get sick and say 'oh I have food poisoning' or something, but you don't know exactly what caused your symptoms unless a doctor tests your stool sample,” Tierno says. So if you're concerned, maybe go get checked out.

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Though it can spread to people through contact with poop from an infected dog, infections are usually foodborne.

Though it can spread to people through contact with poop from an infected dog, infections are usually foodborne.

Campylobacter is zoonotic, Tierno says, which means that humans pick up the organism from animals or animal products. This could happen from handling animals, coming into contact with areas where they live or defecate, or consuming animal products. And sure, many germs from animals are harmless so you don't need to panic about them, but zoonotic infections can make people very sick.

An infection with Campylobacter is usually linked to eating undercooked meat contaminated with the animal's feces, unpasteurized dairy, or other food that was cross-contaminated during while being prepared. “It's very common in cattle and poultry, we just don't hear about it as often as other things like Salmonella or Shigella,” Tierno says. The disease isn't usually transmitted between people.

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