Two people have caught a bacterial infection from dogs this year following a surge in imported pets carrying the disease, The Telegraph can reveal.
Brucella canis, a bacteria that affects dogs, leads to infertility and a poor quality of life for the animals. Euthanasia is the only option currently recommended by the Government.
The disease can spread to humans through canine reproductive fluids, but they can be treated with a long, strong course of antibiotics.
Human tests for Brucella canis are performed by the Brucella Reference Unit (BRU) at the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, while animal tests are performed at the Animal and Plant Health Agency headquarters in Weybridge, Surrey.
Data obtained by The Telegraph show 168 Brucella canis tests were processed by the NHS in 2021, and 149 last year.
However, the rate has doubled since the spike in animal cases this year. There were 107 tests performed at the BRU in the first four months of the year, the most recent data available, putting the UK on track for 321 tests this year.
The Telegraph understands that two people have tested positive for the disease so far this year, with all cases stemming from contact with infected dogs.
Only one named individual has previously tested positive – Wendy Hayes, of Stoke, who caught it from a pregnant foster dog she took in from Belarus last year. Ms Hayes chose to put down all five of her own dogs as a precaution to prevent spread, and has called for a ban on imported pets.
Of the two cases so far this year, one was in a person who tested positive after being admitted to hospital and the other was an asymptomatic staff member of a veterinary practice. It takes the UK tally to three in total.
Of the two cases so far in 2022 one was in a person that tested positive after being admitted to hospital and the other was an asymptomatic staff member of a veterinary practice. It takes the UK tally to three in total.
Dr Wendi Shepherd, the head of emerging infections and zoonoses at UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), told The Telegraph: “We have seen a small number of cases of Brucella canis in people in the UK this year.
“However, the risk to the general public in the UK is very low, and the risk to people who have had close contact with an infected dog is low.
“From the small number of cases of the infection that have been reported in humans worldwide, the infection is usually mild, but people who have weakened immune systems, are pregnant or are young children may be more likely to experience more serious infection.”
The UKHSA told The Telegraph that “all cases of human Brucella canis that UKHSA is aware of occurred following contact with a dog”.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request, it said it was “not aware of any instances of person-to-person transmission of Brucella canis in the UK”.
The source of the disease is largely imported animals from Eastern Europe being sold as pets amid huge demand for family dogs during the pandemic.
Updated guidance on Brucella canis and the threat it poses to human health is expected on Monday.
Official data from the Animal and Plant Health Agency showed three confirmed canine cases of Brucella canis in the UK before 2020, two in 2017 and one in 2018, with each an isolated incident of an imported animal.
The Government knows the country of origin for 84 Brucella canis cases from 2020, 2021 and last year. More than half (43) come from Romania, with Bosnia (eight), Greece (five) and Macedonia (five) the next biggest single contributors.
Romania is the single biggest source of imported dogs, and saw a 50 per cent increase as a result of the pandemic puppy boom.