The Health Reporter Is In: Sept. 13, 2017

The Health Reporter Is In: Sept. 13, 2017

Questions for our Health Reporter? Click here

Q: While Illinois isn't one of the 7 states that are part of the campylobacter outbreak connected to Petland store puppies, is this illness a potential threat around here and are there other ways to get infected besides contact with dogs?

A: Yes to both questions.

Campylobacter doesn't typically spread from person to person, but it can be spread from animal to person . But all warm-blooded creatures, among them chickens, cows and sheep, can be infected and local veterinarians do see cases of it, said Carol Maddox, a diagnostic veterinary microbiologist at the University of Illinois.

"One of the biggest sources is poultry, so, hence, one of the important reasons to cook poultry thoroughly," she said.

The bacteria Campylobacter causes an infectious illness called Campylobacteriosis, and it's one of the most common sources of diarrheal illness in this country. The recent outbreak has involved 39 human cases confirmed in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin where people were exposed to infected puppies from and at Petland stores.

The bacteria can be spread through contact with the feces of an infected dog or cat, but it can also be the source of foodborne infection through raw or undercooked poultry meat, contaminated water, unpasteurized dairy and produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 83 percent of chicken flocks nationally are infected, Maddox said. Poultry processing gets rid of most of it, but some of the bacteria can still be present sometimes in packaged poultry. When that happens, the most important ways consumers can protect themselves is to keep poultry cold and cook it thoroughly, she said.

There have been nine hospitalizations connected with the Petland outbreak, but most people who get sick with campylobacteriosis are sick for about 2-5 days with unpleasant symptoms that can include, in addition to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps and fever.

Like most illnesses, it's the youngest and oldest of the human and animal populations likely to be impacted the most by infection, Maddox said.

Puppies under 3 or 4 months old, for example, are at higher risk and they can be pretty sick with this infection, she said. So if you've got a puppy with diarrheal illness, call your vet as soon as possible, Maddox advised. Diarrhea can leave puppies dehydrated very quickly, just like it can in infant human babies.

The best way to avoid infection through pets is by thorough hand-washing after cleaning up after them and even after playing with them, she said.

The CDC further advises against letting puppies lick your face, "but who's not going to let their puppy lick their face," Maddox said.

The most important thing to remember as people live in such close contact with their pets these days is to be aware of the signs of infection and know how to respond, she said. In addition to calling the vet, that should include getting that puppy off carpeting and into an area that can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Another practice to always avoid is feeding a pet raw meat, Maddox advised.

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