A diarrhea-causing bacterial infection tied to puppies purchased from Petland is spreading and the Centers for Disease Control now says it’s resistant to many antibiotics.
The CDC announced Sept. 11 that it had traced to Petland 39 human cases of Campylobacter in seven states, including five cases in Kansas and one in Missouri. In an update published this week, the federal agency said the outbreak is now up to 55 cases in 12 states, including seven in Kansas and two in Missouri.
The number of hospitalizations tied to the infection had also jumped from nine to 13, and it’s proving hard to treat.
“Clinical samples from people and puppies sickened in this outbreak appear to be resistant to commonly recommended, first-line antibiotics,” the CDC said. “This means infections with the outbreak strain may not respond well to oral antibiotics usually prescribed to treat Campylobacter infections.”
Campylobacter can spread to humans through contact with the feces of infected dogs.
It usually resolves on its own, but can cause severe and even fatal symptoms in those who are young, old or immuno-compromised. The youngest person affected by the current outbreak was less than a year old and the oldest was 86, according to the CDC.
Petland spokeswoman Elizabeth Kunzelman released a company statement that cited Oxford Journal medical advice that Campylobacter be treated primarily with hydration and electrolytes.
“Indeed, most patients with Campylobacter infection have a self-limited illness and do not require antibiotics at all,” the statement said.
Of the 55 cases, 14 people are Petland employees; 35 either recently purchased a puppy at Petland, visited a Petland, or visited or live in a home with a puppy sold through Petland; and one had sexual contact with a person with a confirmed illness linked to Petland, according to the CDC.
Of the remaining five, four “were exposed to puppies from various sources” and one “had unknown puppy exposure.”
Kunzelman also pointed to CDC guidance that “Regardless of where they are from, any puppies and dogs may carry Campylobacter germs.”
“It’s important to note that the (CDC) investigation has been expanded and is now showing cases in four states where there are no Petland locations,” Kunzelman said.
The CDC says whole genome sequencing connected the strain of Campylobacter found in the stool samples of infected people in multiple states to the stool samples of puppies sold at Petland.
“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that puppies sold through Petland stores are a likely source of this outbreak,” the CDC said.
Brenda Douglas, a Raymore resident who purchased an infected puppy from the Petland store in Overland Park in April, expressed disbelief when told that the antibiotic prescribed for her dog on Sept. 23, erythromycin, was on a list of eight that the CDC said has not been effective in treating the Campylobacter strain found in the Petland outbreak.
Douglas had already treated her dog, Zigg, for giardia only to watch his severe diarrhea persist for months before he was diagnosed with Campylobacter last month.
Petland has paid most of Zigg’s medical bills and Kunzelman said the company agreed to give Douglas a $3,500 refund after she decided she wanted to return the dog.
Douglas said Thursday that she hasn’t received the check yet, but she turned Zigg over to a veterinary practice contracted with Petland anyway.
“I’m washing my hands of the whole thing,” Douglas said. “It’s a mess. It’s unfortunate that it happened.”
Douglas said she didn’t believe she was qualified to care for the dog and was unsure whether months of infection could have permanently damaged his digestive system. She said the veterinarians told her they would have to quarantine the dog.
“Because they are doctors, maybe one of them will end up keeping him,” Douglas said.
Douglas said Petland stores should be testing dogs for Campylobacter before they purchase them from breeders, or at least before they offer them for sale to the general public.