An article in an upcoming edition of Transplant Infectious Disease (Gisel et al) describes a case of Bordetella bronchiseptica pneumonia in a person who had received a kidney and pancreas transplant. This person had to board her dogs at a veterinary clinic while she was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction that occurred after surgery. The clinic required her dogs to be vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica, a cause of canine "kennel cough." They were vaccinated intranasally (i.e. up the nose) with a modified live vaccine comprised of live B. bronchiseptica that is modified so it is unlikely to cause disease but can still induce a good immune response. The owner developed pneumonia after returning home and B. bronchiseptica was isolated. Specific testing was not performed to confirm that the vaccine strain caused disease, so it’s possible that she was infected by the normal (i.e. "wild type") B. bronchiseptica (which still would have presumably come from the dogs).

Immunosuppressed individuals are at high risk for infection by microorganisms that usually don’t cause disease in otherwise healthy people. Bordetella bronchiseptica is a good example of this. Care should be taken around pets by anyone whose immune system is compromised. Here are some recommendations pertaining to kennel cough vaccination:

  • Immunosuppressed individuals should not receive modified live vaccines themselves, and it is probably prudent to extend this recommendation to avoid modified live vaccination of their pets with vaccines like the Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine.
  • If vaccination for kennel cough is required for entering a kennel or vet clinic, an exemption should be sought because of the potential risk to the immunocompromised person.
  • If vaccination must be performed, injectable vaccination is preferred. It doesn’t produce as good immunity in the dog compared with intranasal vaccination but the risks to the immunocompromised owner would be much less.
  • If intranasal vaccination with modified live kennel cough vaccine is used, immunocompromised owners should not be in the same room during vaccination. They should avoid contact with the dog’s mouth, nose and face for at least a few days after vaccination and should wash their hands (or use a hand sanitizer) regularly after contact with the dog.
  • If respiratory disease develops in someone exposed to a dog recently vaccinated against kennel cough, the potential for vaccine-associated disease should be mentioned to the physician.