A year-long outbreak of Campylobacter infections has been traced to puppies sold by Petland Inc., according to a Monday notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Ohio Department of Health, several other states and the USDA’s Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are collaborating with the CDC on the outbreak investigation.

As of Monday, the outbreak includes 39 people with laboratory-confirmed Campylobacter infections or symptoms consistent with Campylobacter infection. They live in seven states: Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin. They were exposed to puppies sold through Petland stores.

No deaths have been reported, but nine victims have had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization, according to the CDC outbreak notice.

A dozen of the victims are Petland employees from four states and the other 27 either recently purchased a puppy at Petland, visited a Petland, or visited or live in a home with a puppy sold through Petland before illness began.

Campylobacter can spread through contact with dog feces, which can be present in microscopic amounts on dogs’ fur. It usually does not spread from one person to another. Thorough hand washing after handling dogs can greatly reduce the chance of infection.

Illnesses began on dates ranging from Sept. 15, 2016, through Sept. 1 this year.

Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 64 years, with a median age of 22 years. No deaths have been reported.

Whole genome sequencing showed samples of Campylobacter isolated from the stool of puppies sold through Petland in Florida were closely related to Campylobacter isolated from the stool of an ill person in Ohio. Ohio by far has the most victims, with 18.

Additional laboratory results from people and dogs are pending.

Petland’s response
Monday afternoon officials with Petland issued a statement that suggested the outbreak investigation has not conclusively determined that puppies from its stores are the source of the Campylobacter.

“These 39 people completed several different questionnaires and one commonality was that they had visited a Petland store in the past week or worked there,” according to the Petland statement. “The questionnaires were not consistent and didn’t ask the same questions related to type of food the dogs ate or other contact with dogs. Petland immediately provided the CDC with complete access to our stores, our staff, our consulting veterinarians, our operating procedures and our pets.

“The CDC has not identified any failures of Petland’s operating system that would lead to any campylobacter infection. Petland reinforces proper hand sanitization before and after playing with any of our puppies with the many sanitation stations in each store and has strict kennel sanitation procedures and protocols put in place by consulting veterinarians.

“… we again stress the importance of proper hand sanitizing when handling pets and when handling their food or waste. It is also important not to let any dog lick your mouth.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)