Rabbit fever: hunting dogs could transmit dangerous infectious disease tularemia
Austrian scientists found in a study that numerous hunting dogs are infected with tularemia. The infectious disease, which is colloquially known as "rabbit fever", can also be dangerous for people. It is still unclear whether the disease can also be transmitted from dogs to humans.
Rabbit fever can also be dangerous for people
Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by the "Francisella tularensis" pathogen. This can be transmitted by sucking and stinging insects, as well as directly via contaminated hay and infected blood or other liquids. Raw meat from diseased wild animals also carries a high risk of infection from the pathogens. The life-threatening infectious disease, which is colloquially referred to as "rabbit fever", mainly affects hares and rodents. But people can also become infected. Researchers from Austria have now found in a study that dogs have also contracted it.
If symptoms occur, see a doctor
Tularemia is a disease that is usually fatal to wild animals such as rabbits, wild rabbits or rodents. As a zoonosis, however, it also poses a high health risk for humans.
In humans, the infectious disease can develop very differently, depending on the point of entry, for example, flu-like symptoms such as fever, but also skin ulcers, blisters in the mouth and throat, pneumonia or conjunctivitis (conjunctivitis) can occur.
Health experts say you should definitely see a doctor if you experience symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle spasms, or nausea and vomiting after coming into contact with wild animals or eating game meat.
Relevant frequency of infections confirmed
Although it had been known for a long time that dogs can also become infected, the extent to which hunting dogs are infected has hardly been investigated.
Researchers at “Vetmeduni Vienna” have now confirmed a relevant frequency of infections with a blood test carried out on Austrian dogs and a positive rate of seven percent.
This could also intensify the discussion as to whether there is an additional risk of infection for humans behind the mostly symptom-free animals.
The results of the Austrian researchers were published in the specialist magazine "Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases".
Hunting dogs in Austria are more regularly infected than expected
Since dogs mostly show no or hardly any symptoms and no natural illnesses and a high natural resistance to a small amount of bacteria, they are hardly considered in studies.
Nevertheless, there are theories that the four-legged friends could serve as an intermediate host and thus as another contagion reserve.
And especially in the case of hunting dogs that, like hunters, come into direct contact with infected wild animals, such as when retrieving, the question is justified how regularly these four-legged friends are infected with the pathogens.
Scientists from the research institute for wildlife and ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna have therefore now for the first time examined the blood of 80 Austrian hunting dogs from regions where the tularemia pathogens occur regularly.
"After two independent analyzes, we were able to identify five dogs as clearly positive," explained first author Annika Posautz in a message.
This showed that the number of dogs in the Austrian regions in which the rabbit plague is endemic, i.e. occurs regularly, is infected more frequently.
Risk of infection from infected dogs possible
“The quota of around seven percent makes it clear that hunting dogs can also get infected regularly. As carriers of the pathogen, even without symptoms, the animals could also be considered as unexpected carriers, ”said Posautz.
According to the researchers, there is still no clear scientific proof of this.
Factors such as age, for example, that young dogs could come into contact with contaminated game more often for training purposes, however, just like the question of whether the four-legged friends are a risk of infection for humans, must first be analyzed by further studies.
The blood was tested with two different agglutination tests in order to be able to deduce antigens on the surface of the pathogen or antibodies formed by the immune system.
“With these detection methods, these features are deliberately clumped together, which can then be seen under the microscope,” says the researcher.
“If tularemia is suspected, it is necessary to do more than just one of these tests, as cross-reactions with other pathogens can also occur. If all tests are positive, the disease can be clearly confirmed. That was the case with five animals, ”explained Posautz. (ad)