It’s always traditional at this time of year to look back at the previous year, and make some predictions about the one to come. 2016 was an… interesting… year in infectious diseases, and I think 2017 might be even more interesting.
I always think it’s strange how, as soon as the Christmas decorations come down, people start planning to go away on holiday. Perhaps, on second thoughts, it isn’t that odd – as I write this it’s snowing outside without being quite cold enough to settle, which makes this one of the most miserable months of the year! I mention it because there are a number of exotic nasties that we are increasingly seeing in the UK as a result of jet-setting dogs and cats. Sadly, some of these are now starting to be established here, and Brexit or no Brexit, we’re going to see more of them over the next few years.
At the same time, we’re developing some new diseases of our own here in the UK, and some older diseases out there haven’t gone away, but are still lurking in the shadows. So, I’m going to take a punt and make a guess at the the Big Five “exotic” diseases that I think we’re going to have to worry about in 2017. (This time in 2018, perhaps I’ll revisit the list and see how right, or wrong, I was!)
This is a parasite that is carried by ticks, which infests the red blood cells of dogs, causing severe (often fatal) anaemia. Until 2016, there were no known native cases (all the dogs who were diagnosed with the disease had contracted it in Europe). However, as it is no longer a legal requirement for dogs to be treated for ticks before returning to the UK from Europe, it was only a matter of time before the parasite set up home here. In 2016, it was confirmed that a number of cases in Essex had been contracted in the UK. This condition is carried by the European Meadow Tick, Dermacentor reticulatus, which lives in the south east, south west England and parts of Wales. Now Babesia is here, it is unlikely to vanish again, and I think it will spread – the ticks will be carried by foxes and dogs to new areas, and we’ll start seeing cases further afield.
Avian Influenza is always around, and normally we ignore it – because most strains aren’t terribly contagious, or dangerous. However, at the end of 2016, an aggressive and virulent strain of the H5N8 started spreading through wild and domestic birds in mainland Europe. A closely related strain has been associated with infection of humans in southeast Asia, although fortunately that particular variant hasn’t made it this far west. However, as a result, all poultry (commercial or pet) have been ordered into protective isolation by the Chief Vet, a situation that is likely to remain in force well into February, if not longer. Already, the virus is killing wild waterfowl and domestic poultry – we really can’t afford to have it established here. The hope is that, by the spring, the epidemic will die down as migratory birds move away, hopefully carrying the virus away with them – but if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that Bird Flu will be back sooner or later.
This is a parasite transmitted primarily by sandflies in southern Europe and around the Mediterranean. The nasty thing about it is that it can lie dormant for months or even years before becoming active; once activated, it causes nodules to form in the skin, enlarged lymph nodes, and often weight loss, emaciation, and a wide range of multisystemic disease syndromes. It is often fatal if untreated; however, treatment is difficult and usually life-long.
Once an infected dog is in the UK, the current evidence (see references below) is that it CAN spread the disease to others even in the absence of sandflies (although this is very rare, and poorly understood) – through mating, blood (e.g. transfusions, and probably open bites or wounds), or possibly through local ticks or fleas. Although we don’t know exactly how many cases there were in 2016, it is highly likely that there will be more in 2017, as reports have been steadily increasing for several years now.
CRGV (“Alabama Rot”)
This is a really odd disease, and we still don’t know the cause. However, it seems to be here to stay, and is now being recognised across the country, far from its original “heartland” of the New Forest. The technical name is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, but most people (sensibly enough) still refer to it as Alabama Rot – even though it probably is nothing to do with Alabama. It causes damage to the blood vessels in the legs and the kidneys, leading to ulcers on the skin of the dog’s legs and then kidney failure. Although a wide range of possible causes have been suggested, none of them have yet been confirmed, but it does seem to be concentrated in certain geographical areas. For more information, check out Anderson Moores Referrals, who are the vets with the most experience in this condition.
OK, this one I’m really sticking my neck out with – I’ve been in practice 12 years and I’ve never seen a clinical case. However, I am genuinely worried that it might make a return. Distemper is a really nasty (and often fatal) disease of dogs that affects the gut, respiratory system, and sometimes nervous system and eyes too. For many years, it has been well controlled by some very effective vaccines. So why am I worried? Well, Distemper is very closely related to Measles – another disease well controlled by vaccination. However, like my medical colleagues are seeing human vaccination percentages fall, we’re seeing more and more people choosing not to vaccinate their dogs because of perceived health risks. Sooner or later, the percentage of vaccinated dogs is going to fall below the “herd immunity” level, and we’re going to get an outbreak. When people have seen what this disease does, we might get an upsurge in vaccination – but I hope we don’t have to lose a lot of pets before that happens.
So, what can you do to protect your animals this year?
- Monitor their health carefully and get them checked out by your vet if they seem ill.
- Make sure you stay up to date with preventative medicines such as wormers, flea and tick treatments, and vaccines.
- If you’re going abroad, talk to your vet for health advice first.
That said, I would be very pleased to be proven wrong – here’s hoping!
Happy New Year,
David Harris and all at VetHelpDirect
There’s a really nice description on the American CDC website, explaining the role (and importance) of dog-to-dog Leishmania transmission in the USA: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/12/3/05-0811_article
Owens, SD et al (2001), “Transmission of visceral leishmaniasis through blood transfusions from infected English foxhounds to anemic dogs” J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001, 219(8):1078-83; see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11700704
Nauucke, TJ & Lorentz, S (2012), “First report of venereal and vertical transmission of canine leishmaniosis from naturally infected dogs in Germany”, Parasit Vectors 5:6 (available at https://parasitesandvectors.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-3305-5-67
Naucke, TH, Amelung, S, and Lorentz, S (2016), “First report of transmission of canine leishmaniosis through bite wounds from a naturally infected dog in Germany”, Parasit Vectors 9: 256 (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4862214/)