Worms & Germs Blog

Equine Biosecurity Standards

Posted in Horses

Biosecure horse farmThe Canadian Food Inspection Agency (which, despite the name, deals with broader animal issues as well, not just those related to food), in conjunction with a variety of partners, has developed a National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector. It’s a comprehensive overview of best practices for infectious disease control in the equine world, something that’s always a challenge given the nature of horses and how we use them.

Since we’re in Canada, nous avons aussi une version en français.

More Turtle-Associated Salmonellosis

Posted in Reptiles, Salmonella

turtle-in-the-waterIn what shouldn’t come as a surprise, I guess, another pet turtle-associated multistate outbreak of Salmonella infection in people has been identified in the US. Despite the fact that the sale of small (<4 inch shell length) turtles has been banned in the US for decades, the law is widely ignored, and kids get sick as a result.

The current outbreak sounds pretty typical:

  • 124 cases have been reported from 22 states. As usual for salmonellosis, it is expected that 124 is the vast minority of affected people because cases often go undiagnosed.
  • A large percentage (41%) of affected individuals are kids  less than 5 years of age. They are more likely to put these turtles in their mouths and have other close contacts with them, are less likely to wash their hands properly, and by virtue of their age are also more susceptible to infection.
  • Four Louisiana turtle farms have been identified as potential sources.

Eradication of Salmonella from pet turtles is an impossible goal. So, the important aspects of preventing outbreaks like this are keeping turtles away from high risk people (especially young kids) and using good hygiene and management practices.

More information about turtles and safe turtle management can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.  Also check out the recent infographics on management of reptiles and amphibians from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Ontario Raccoon Rabies Update

Posted in Rabies

Raccoon rabies continues to be a concern in the Hamilton, Ontario area. After being eradicated in Ontario for years over a decade, raccoon rabies snuck back into the province late last year. Intensive surveillance and baiting efforts by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) continue.  Almost half a million oral rabies vaccine baits have been distributed in the area since the beginning of April to try to vaccinate local wildlife.  Animal owners can do their part to help by making sure their pets’ vaccinations are up-to-date, keeping pets away from wildlife, and reporting suspicious wildlife to local animal control.

Here is the latest control zone and case plot, as well as the current baiting map.  As of April 19, 90 cases of raccoon-variant rabies have been detected (61 in raccoons, and 29 in skunks).

The time series of maps can be found on the OMAFRA rabies website .

baiting maprabies_surveillance_and_control_04_19_2016_v2

Public Health Agency of Canada: Healthy Pets, Healthy People

Posted in Other animals, Pocket pets, Reptiles

The Public Health Agency of Canada, along with various partners (including the Worms&Germs team), has developed a set of informational postcards and a poster targeting pet owners and prospective pet owners.  They emphasize five critical steps for safe pet ownership and provide a visual reminder using infographic icons:

  • WASH (your hands)
  • DISINFECT (contaminated surfaces and objects)
  • SEPARATE (animals and their supplies from food areas)
  • SUPERVISE (children with pets)
  • PROTECT (yourself and your family by making smart choices about a new pet)

The sheets can be downloaded by clicking the links below:

Healthy Pets, Healthy People (8.5″ x 11″poster, general)

Reptiles and Amphibians (two-sided postcard)

Rodents (two-sided postcard)

More information on their campaigns can be found on the PHAC Facebook page.

poster-healthy-animals-affiche-animaux-en-sante-eng copy postcard-rodents-carte-rongeurs-vivants-eng copy postcard-reptiles-and-amphibians-carte-reptiles-et-amphibiens-eng copy title

Lawsuit To Euthanize Neighbours’ Dog for Rabies Testing, Florida

Posted in Dogs, Rabies

Judge gavelA Florida couple is suing their neighbour in an attempt to get the neighbour’s dog euthanized for rabies testing. The dog attacked the couple’s beagle, and the wife was bitten while intervening (as was her sister). Because there was a bite, it’s important to consider the potential for rabies exposure and take appropriate actions. But is this the right thing to do?

A few import facts to consider first:

  • Rabies is very rare in dogs in the US. However, it does occur and it’s bad, so it can’t be overlooked.
  • There are two ways to determine if a dog that bit someone was able to transmit rabies. One is to euthanize it and test the brain. The other is to monitor it for 10 days. If it’s still alive and healthy at that point, it could not have transmitted rabies at the time of the bite. That’s the most common approach.

Kantor’s husband, neurologist Dr. Daniel Kantor, said he had to resort to the suit because his wife can’t undergo preventive rabies treatments. He said she has an auto-immune system disorder that would make the treatments a risk to her health.

  • A realistic concern but one that has no relevance here. The dog doesn’t need to be euthanized to determine whether or not treatment is needed. The fact that one of the plaintiffs is a neurologist is an interesting twist. It’s sad that he doesn’t understand some basic aspects of this neurological disease.

Broward animal control officials quarantined Zina, who is owned by Joan and Irwin Mandel, and say the dog posed no rabies risk when it attacked, but Crystal Kantor doesn’t trust that.

  • So we should euthanize dogs when people just don’t like the answer they get, especially when it’s an answer supported by numerous guidelines and scientific fact?

Suing makes no sense. For one thing, it’s an unnecessarily confrontational approach to solving a simple problem (or, it’s a way to escalate a problem when someone doesn’t like the answer they’ve gotten). It’s too bad it has to come to something that wastes a lot of time and money.

Two, by the time this gets sorted out in court, I assume the 10 day quarantine period will have passed. Any decision would be completely irrelevant at that point.

I understand the sensitivity that comes with rabies exposure. I’ve been there myself. However, it’s important that facts and reason win out. This dog needs a 10-day quarantine, and that’s it, from a rabies standpoint. Figuring out why it bit and how to prevent if from happening again is an important issue but something that’s not related to the rabies lawsuit.

More information about rabies and about bites can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.

Raw Pet Food and Human Salmonellosis Outbreak

Posted in Cats, Dogs, Salmonella

Raw meatAccording to an alert from the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia:

The BC Centre for Disease Control is collaborating with BC health authorities, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections in British Columbia likely related to raw pet food. Raw pet food is food served to pets that contains raw animal proteins like meat, bones, organs, and eggs.

Four British Columbians who feed their pets raw food diets have become infected with the same strain of Salmonella. The exact source of the Salmonella is unknown but investigations are ongoing. Infections can occur during handling of raw meat, including raw pet food, or from pets shedding the bacteria. Animals can carry Salmonella bacteria but show no signs of illness.

I haven’t seen any other details yet and hopefully contact tracing is narrowing it down to the food type. It would be good to know how widespread exposure might be, since foodborne disease is markedly under-reported and if 4 cases of salmonellosis were confirmed, it’s likely that many more have actually occurred. Diagnosed case numbers tend to be the minority because they miss people that had mild disease and didn’t go to the doctor, situations where fecal testing was not recommended by the physician, or where the requested fecal samples were not collected.

Raw meat feeding inherently poses some risk to pets and households. It’s of particular concern when there are high-risk individuals (old, young, pregnant, immunocompromised) or high risk pets (similar groups) in the household, as members of these groups are more likely to get sick and more likely to have serious illness.

More information about raw meat feeding, including recommendations to reduce the risk for those who still want to do it, is available on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page, under the infosheet for raw meat.

“Show Me the Evidence”….Maybe

Posted in Dogs

Cat paws over faceWhen we’re faced with making decisions about treatments, “show me the evidence” is a common refrain. There are a lot of products being sold as “cures” but with little or no evidence to back up their claims. So, looking for any scientific backing is important.  One of the highest levels of evidence would be a controlled clinical trial that’s published in a scientific journal.


Sometimes, it’s not quite that clear.

One problem is predatory publishers. There’s a booming market in these. Journals spring up out of nowhere, often with official sounding names or names mimicking established journals; however, the main criteria for publication is the ability of the author to pay a couple of thousand dollars in publication fees.

Another issue is journal overload. Somewhat related to the above, there are just so many journals now (predatory and otherwise) that it’s possible to eventually find a home for even pretty poor research. People in the scientific community may recognize a bottom feeder journal and be wary of a paper there, but the broader public doesn’t know that.

Yet another problem is when bad research gets published in a reputable scientific journal. I had to apply my 24-hour rule (don’t post anything that gets me worked up for 24 hours after I’ve written it so I can tone it down when I’m less cranky) to the latest example of this.

I found out about this paper via a press release by a company claiming their cranberry-based supplement was as effective as antibiotics for preventing urinary tract infections.

  • My first thought was… doubtful. Cranberry studies haven’t been overly promising in animals and research involving commercial veterinary products is often pretty weak.

Then they referenced an independent study that was just published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research (Chou et al, 2015).

  • My next thought… interesting. It would be nice to see some good data.

Then I read the paper… and my blood pressure rose significantly.

There are lots of issues and, long story short, from my perspective, this paper is an embarrassment to veterinary research, the journal and the authors (wouldn’t you have liked to see what I wanted to write 24 hours ago?).


  • The study compared the supplement to antibiotics for prevention of UTIs. First off, we don’t use antibiotics to prevent recurrent UTIs so the comparison makes no biological sense. Why did they do it? Presumably to say (as they do) that antibiotics were no more effective than their product. With an underpowered study, that’s easy to prove. What they needed to do was compare their product to a placebo. With an underpowered study like this, their data would have shown no difference between their product and the placebo either. Not as good for marketing.
  • There are standard criteria for the design and reporting of clinical trials. This study fulfills pretty much none of them. They don’t even do basic things like report the sex of the dogs that were involved (important for UTI risk) and whether they randomized them between groups.
  • The study involves two groups of dogs. Each group had 6 dogs. From a statistical standpoint, that’s useless. They market this study by saying the two approaches are equally effective. That’s  waht’s known as a “non-inferiority” trial. For such a trial, you need to have enough subjects to make sure you can actually detect a difference. If we say that 4/6 dogs in each group would be expected to have developed a UTI if untreated, and if the cranberry product is no worse that 30% worse than antibiotics (not exactly a high threshold), 30 dogs per group would be required. If the expected rate of infection was lower or we wanted to set the threshold for the maximum difference to a smaller value, even more dogs would be required. This small number of dogs tells us basically nothing.

Does this cranberry supplement work?

  • Who knows? This study tells us absolutely nothing more than we would have known without it. But now a company has a “published scientific study” to cite, all because of a flawed peer review process.

Is there a problem with using the supplement?

  • No. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it, and this post isn’t anti-supplement (either this one in particular or cranberry in general). It may very well work. I just know absolutely no more about the potential that it works after reading this study than I did before.

We need good evidence. We need researchers to design proper studies. We need journals to do their jobs with regard to proper scrutiny of research before allowing poor studies to be published, which ultimately only muddy the waters when it comes to finding reliable information.

Vaccine Apathy

Posted in Cats, Dogs, Other animals, Rabies, Vaccination

Raccoon close upSuccess can breed apathy. Apathy can lead to bad decisions.

That’s a common problem with vaccinations. People lose sight of why we vaccinate. Growing up during a time when many major pathogens have been controlled by vaccines, it’s easy to forget about how bad those diseases are. Whether it’s resurgence in measles in people because of debunked autism concerns, or increasing rates of distemper and parvovirus in dogs, we’re definitely seeing the impact.

A recent article on The Weather Network’s website highlights some of the problems .The article provides an update on the concerning raccoon rabies problem in the Hamilton, Ontario region. Comments to the article range (as is normal) from informed and thoughtful, to unintelligible, with varying degrees in between. Unsurprisingly, the anti-vaccine crowd gets in a few shots.

For example:

You are right, there is no proof that it works, I don’t get flu shots and I don’t get the flu. Perhaps if I took the flu shots, I would get the flu and the doctor would then get my business?

And my favourite….

I would use Intravnous (sic) high dose vitamin c and a quality colloidal siver (sic) product such as acs 200 to treat myself and my pet for rabies.

Well, I guess that’ll leave more oxygen for the rest of us.

Certainly, no vaccine is 100% safe (neither is any antibiotic, or any walk down the road, for that matter). But, returning to the pre-vaccination days when diseases we can now control killed countless individuals and severely impact the lives of countless more isn’t a good idea.

Since rabies is pretty much 100% fatal, this isn’t a vaccine to skip.

Hermit Crab Zoonoses

Posted in Other animals

Hermit crabIt seems like s a bit of an oddball question, but it’s come up a couple times in the past few weeks: Are there any human health risks posed by hermit crabs?

My standard line is that there is no such thing as a zero-risk animal. That’s not an anti-pet sentiment, it’s just life. The same thing actually applies to people too – there’s no person that’s not carrying something in or on them that could infect someone else. That’s not a reason to lock yourself in your room, just a realization that life has risks.

Back to crabs.  As far as pets go, hermit crabs can be interesting yet low-maintenance little critters, and they’re easy to get. Some of the big concerns we have with other species, like bites and scratches, don’t really apply. You can get nipped, but it would rarely break the skin or cause any other problem. So, the question is whether they can carry microbes in or on them, or in their environment, which could cause problems for people.

As mentioned above, the answer can’t really be no. However, it’s probably as close to “no” as you can get with any pet (other than a pet rock). I can’t find any reports of diseases linked to hermit crabs. Depending how they are raised and distributed, I suspect there’s still some risk of them picking up potentially concerning bacteria like Salmonella, but it’s probably uncommon. Terrestrial hermit crabs live in moist environments that could harbour a range of bacteria and fungi, most of which are of very little concern, particularly to people with healthy immune systems. It would be similar with aquatic hermit crabs. There is the potential for various waterborne bacteria (e.g. Mycobacterium marinum) to be present in the aquarium, but the overall risk is low.

Overall, it’s probably at least as risky to have contact with a garden or sandbox.

However, a few common sense measures can be used, especially in households or facilities with higher-risk people (very young, very old, pregnant, or immunocompromised):

  • Don’t clean out habitats or their contents (e.g. food bowls) in kitchen or bathroom sinks.
  • Don’t dump aquarium water down the kitchen or bathroom sink, or bathtub.
  • Clean up splashes and spills promptly.
  • Wash your hands after contact with hermit crabs or their environment.

Are these precautions necessary? Maybe, maybe not.

Are they hard or disruptive? No. So it makes sense to do them anyway.

More Canine H3N2 Influenza in Cats

Posted in Cats, Dogs

cat-and-dogPerhaps unsurprisingly, canine H3N2 influenza has been found in a group of cats in the US. Canine H3N2 influenza is the strain that emerged in the US last year. It was likely imported (in a dog) from South Korea, and then spread through many parts of the country. As with H3N8 canine flu, we’ve been waiting for H3N2 to show up in Canada, but the border seems to be holding strong and neither canine flu virus appears to have established itself up here.

Cats are susceptible to influenza viruses from other species (including humans) and spread of canine H3N2 from dogs to a cat has previously been reported, and occasional feline infections were known to occur in South Korea. Most recently, the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory diagnosed H3N2 influenza in multiple cats at an animal shelter in northwest Indiana. Finding H3N2 in cats, particularly those in a high risk population like a shelter, isn’t really surprising. However, it is concerning, as it is yet another potential cause of disease in cats. It also creates the potential for cats to act as sources of infection of dogs, other cats or potentially other species. The risk of spread from cats (particularly to animals other than dogs) is probably pretty low, since infections in cats will presumably continue to be rare and (at least outside of shelters) cats tend to have limited contact with large numbers of other cats or other animals.

One good thing about influenza is that the virus is only shed for a short period of time. Infected animals (or people) don’t carry the virus for long after getting infected, so it’s easier to contain the pathogen in a shelter or elsewhere. That’s in comparison to other diseases with which some infected animals will become long-term, silent carriers that can spread the causative pathogen to others for a long time. With flu, we can concentrate efforts over a short period and have a good chance of containing it in a given population. The affected shelter has quarantined infected animals, to prevent them from taking flu with them when they are adopted. The article I read doesn’t mention if other adoptions have been suspended. Situations like this need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. If the virus is well contained to a group of known infected animals, life as normal (with some enhanced infection control practices) can go on in the rest of the shelter. If it’s not confidently contained, short term cessation of adoptions is often a good idea, to buy some time to get things under control.

While the fact that flu is shed only for a short time helps, the fact that infected animals often shed large amounts of the virus in the 24 hours before they become sick is a problem. That means that there can be apparently health but infected (and infectious) animals in a group. That’s why confidence in containment is crucial. You can’t just go in every day and say “that cat looks healthy so it can’t be shedding influenza.” You have to stop the cycle of transmission and contain the animals that were exposed, whether they look healthy or not.

What does this mean for the average cat owner?

Not much. The odds of most cats having a close encounter with an infected dog are very low. Cats in shelters are at highest risk. Cats in households are most at risk if a co-habitating dog develops influenza. Controlling canine flu in dogs is the best way to prevent it from infecting cats.

A few general tips, though:

  • Ideally, any cat adopted from a shelter should be quarantined for a short period of time at home after adoption. That’s not just a flu thing, but is useful for a variety of microbes the cat could bring home with it. If other animals are in the household, that’s tough, but limiting direct contact as much as possible for a few days is ideal.
  • I’m not a fan of cats getting outside at all, for many reasons, but if a cat is adopted from a shelter and is to be an indoor-outdoor cat, it should be kept as an indoor cat for the first week or two. That helps reduce the potential for transmitting any shelter-associated diseases to animals in the area.
  • Keep sick animals away from other animals… influenza or otherwise. Common sense, but not necessarily commonly done. If a dog has signs consistent with influenza, it should be keep at home to reduce transmission of the virus.
  • Vaccination of dogs should be considered in high risk situations. That would include dogs in areas where the virus is circulating, dogs whose lifestyles have them in frequent contact with other dogs, and dogs that are likely at higher risk of severe disease if they get influenza (e.g. dogs with underlying heart or lung disease). Vaccines for cats are not available and off-label use of the canine vaccine is not recommended.

H3N2 has established itself pretty well in the US dog population, so this will not likely be the last spillover infection in cats. It’s not a huge deal, but anytime we see influenza moving between species, we get a bit concerned.