Poop from puppies sold at Petland stores in seven states, including Kansas and Missouri, is giving people massive diarrhea.
A Centers for Disease Control alert issued Monday said an outbreak of campylobacter infections traced to Petland has sickened 39 people in seven states. Five people were affected in Kansas and one in Missouri. Ohio has seen 18 cases, Florida 11, Pennsylvania, two, and Wisconsin and Tennessee with one apiece.
No one has died but nine victims have been hospitalized.
Campylobacter is a bacteria that can spread through contact with dog feces. It’s “one of four key global causes of diarrhoeal disease” worldwide, according to the World Health Association.
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Its symptoms are usually mild, but they can be fatal for very young children, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems.
Midge Grinstead, the senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States - Kansas, said for-profit pet stores are vulnerable to bacterial infections if they purchase puppies from breeders that have low sanitation standards.
“The theory has been that a lot of the pet stores get their puppies from what we would call ‘puppy mills,’” Grinstead said. “Those are breeding facilities that put money ahead of the well-being of animals, so they tend to live in pretty horrific conditions, especially the parents.”
Missouri topped the Humane Society’s list of states with problem puppy mills for the fifth consecutive year in May and Kansas tied for second.
Puppies exposed to campylobacter can spread it to new owners that take them home and shower them with affection.
Twelve of the campylobacter victims are Petland employees from stores in four states. The other 27 either recently bought a puppy at Petland, or visited a Petland store or a home with a puppy purchased at Petland.
The CDC has not publicly released lists of which Petland locations are involved and Petland spokeswoman Elizabeth Kunzelman said the federal agency has not told Petland either.
Kunzelman emailed a statement saying that the questionnaire the CDC used to trace the cases “was not consistent and didn’t ask the same questions related to type of food the dogs ate or contact with other dogs.”
The company said that the CDC had not identified any failures in Petland's operations that would lead to campylobacter infections.
“Petland takes the health and welfare of our pets, our customers and staff very seriously,” the statement said. “In a 2016 study, less than 1.2% of puppies purchased from Petland incurred any sort of medical issue requiring medical hospitalization.”
The CDC advises pet owners to not let dogs lick them around the mouth or face, clean up after dogs promptly, use gloves when picking up their poop and wash hands thoroughly every time they touch their dogs or clean up after them.
There are four Petland locations in the Kansas City area: Independence, Overland Park, Blue Springs and Olathe.
The campylobacter illnesses began on Sept. 15, 2016, and the most recent case was reported on Sept. 1.
The median age of the victims is 22 years, but they range in age from less than a year to 64 years old.