Veterinary organisations issue joint policy position for vet teams on Brucella canis

19 January 2024

 

A joint policy position from the BVA, BSAVA, SPVS and BVNA has been launched today, which includes a suite of recommendations and resources around the diagnosis, testing and management of Brucella canis. It encourages veterinary teams to consider all available clinical information alongside laboratory test results for Brucella canis and to individually risk assess cases when deciding on suitable treatment or euthanasia options for those dogs that test positive. The position also calls on Government to tighten pet import rules and introduce appropriate mandatory pre-import testing to close the door on this and other serious, exotic diseases.

Among the 13 recommendations, the policy position advises that vets:

  • Use their clinical judgement to make a contextualised decision regarding testing for B. canis, based on risk assessment and conversations with the animal owner and all relevant stakeholders. Information from this policy position, as well as from APHA and BSAVA will be useful when making these decisions.
  • Make owners aware of associated costs and potential outcomes before tests are conducted in order to ensure informed consent.
  • Use B. canis SAT and iELISA serological tests in most cases to determine the infection status of a dog, using blood samples taken three months after potential infection. However, serological tests alone should not be used to confirm infection, and results should be considered alongside additional evidence, such as clinical signs, movement history and likelihood of exposure to the infection.
  • Individually risk assess cases when deciding on suitable treatment or euthanasia options following confirmation of B. canis infection. The quality of life and the potential impact on that dog, other dogs and people should take precedence over longevity for the infected dog.
  • Work to improve awareness of clinical signs and risk factors amongst colleagues and the animal-owning public to help manage and minimise spread of the disease, whilst continuing to provide appropriate care for potentially at-risk dogs.

The recommendations in the new policy position carefully consider findings of the UK Health Security Agency’s HAIRS report last September, which classified the risk to the general public as very low and for individuals at greater risk of exposure, including veterinary teams and owners of infected dogs, as low.

In the last four years, there has been an increase in the number of identified B. canis cases in the UK, which had previously been sporadic and isolated. Data released by the Government shows that cases rose from just three before 2020 to 240 in the last three years. Most dogs were either imported, had returned from holiday overseas, or been bred with an imported dog. In 2022, news also emerged of the first UK case of dog-to-human transmission, highlighting the risks to those handling and treating infected dogs and raising levels of concern within veterinary teams, despite this being relatively low.

BVA President Anna Judson said:

“The rise in detected cases of Brucella canis in recent years must be taken seriously, while keeping in mind that that the risk to humans, even for veterinary teams, is deemed to be low at present.

“Testing and decision-making for suspected or confirmed B. canis cases can be complicated and challenging, which is why our advice to veterinary professionals is to make use of the risk assessment information provided by APHA, BSAVA and BVA when making any decision.

“Interpreting test results is challenging, and a single serological test alone is not sufficient to definitively confirm a dog’s infection status. We recommend that clinical signs, epidemiological links and diagnostics should all be considered when evaluating a dog’s infection status and considering what action to take.

“Veterinary teams should continue to take suitable precautions to mitigate the risks from potentially infected dogs.

“We continue to call on Government to introduce appropriate mandatory pre-import testing and tighten import rules to reduce the risk of this and other serious exotic diseases from entering the UK.”

BSAVA President Carl Gorman said:

Brucella canis demonstrates the potential risks imported diseases pose to both human and animal health. The fact that a dog might carry the disease without any obvious clinical signs or that clinical signs can be ambiguous, understandably create a degree of uncertainty for both vets and pet owners.”

“The BSAVA Scientific Information Document provides relevant information for veterinary staff in practice, along with APHA resources, and we would encourage their use by vets in practice to support decision-making with owners on suitable options tailored for their particular situation. Vets are also well placed to help educate owners and increase their awareness not just about the impact an infected dog can have on the community but also, on how the spread of the disease can be minimised.”

SPVS President Ryan Davis said:

“We see Brucella canis as a problem to tackle now. Whilst incidence is currently low the risk to our teams is very real, so taking action before the disease is endemic is crucial. The BVA policy position we have contributed to are a valuable resource to teams but need to be backed up by government legislation.”

BVNA President Lyndsay Hughes said:

“We know there is currently much concern and uncertainty within the veterinary nursing profession regarding the incidence of potential and actual Brucella canis cases, and the risk to human health – particularly within our veterinary teams. The profession and public should be reassured that this risk is currently low, however we cannot ignore that the incidence of Brucella canis is rising.

“We would encourage veterinary teams to engage with this policy position, in order to ensure the risk of Brucella canis to human health continues to be minimised. Veterinary nurses are ideally placed to contribute to the implementation of effective practice protocols, along with client education – and so engaging with the evolving evidence base remains as crucial as ever.

“The increase in Brucella canis cases in recent years also highlights a significant need for Government to establish more robust import rules for animals entering the UK, including appropriate mandatory pre-import testing.”

The joint policy position on Brucella canis is available here.

APHA’s updated guidance for veterinary professionals is available to view at: http://apha.defra.gov.uk/documents/surveillance/diseases/Canine-Brucellosis-Summary.pdf

BSAVA’s Scientific Information Document can be viewed at: https://new.bsava.com/article/brucella-canis-bsava-scientific-information-document/

The UKHSA HAIRS risk assessment: Brucella canis report is available to view at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hairs-risk-assessment-brucella-canis/hairs-risk-assessment-brucella-canis#summary