A small-dog commercial breeding facility in Marion County, in central Iowa, is the source of “multiple cases” of a canine disease that can be transmitted to humans, the Iowa Agriculture Department said.

Canine brucellosis is highly contagious among dogs and may cause catastrophic reproductive problems in the animals, including infertility, stillbirths and spontaneous abortions, according to the Iowa Department of Health. Health officials have issued quarantines for facilities containing the exposed dogs as they undergo clinical testing.

State Veterinarian Jeff Kaisand issued a statement earlier this month confirming multiple cases of the disease in dogs in central Iowa.

While it is rarely reported in humans, canine brucellosis is zoonotic — meaning it can infect people through contaminated blood, urine, milk or reproductive fluids.

A human infected with the disease may experience flu-like symptoms: fever, sweats, joint pain, weakness and headaches, according to the Iowa Department of Health. Young children and people with weakened immune systems are at particular risk for complications, and Iowa State University says the disease could cause a woman to miscarry or give birth prematurely.

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“That’s why if we do have a positive dog, it has to be put down,” said Amy Heinz, founder and executive director of Iowa-based AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport. A woman “could find comfort in her little furry friend, and it could be her little furry friend that caused her miscarriage.”

Heinz said her organization, which is based in De Soto, just west of Des Moines, is in the midst of a 30-day quarantine after purchasing 32 dogs from the cited breeding facility at an auction this month. The quarantine will have a dire effect on strays in the area, she said, as no dogs will be allowed in or out of the shelter for its duration.

“The strays in rural Iowa are up a creek right now,” Heinz said.

Health officials say the disease is most commonly reported in breeding facilities, where staffers are trained to recognize and test for it. That means veterinarians, dog breeders and kennel workers are the most likely people to be exposed to canine brucellosis, and Heinz said her staff is aware of the associated risks.

Canine brucellosis is chronic and has no apparent cure, said Edward Dubovi, a professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Infected dogs may appear to be healthy — especially if they’ve been treated recently with antibiotics — which can skew results and cause sick canines to test negative for the disease.

“Part of the problem is it’s difficult to treat,” Dubovi said last week. “Some of the tests go negative once treated, so you look like you’re getting a good dog, but it’s chronically infected.”

While the 32 dogs in Heinz’s care initially tested negative and haven’t shown symptoms, she suspects that the breeder may have given them antibiotics before the auction. She said another buyer reported that several of their dogs purchased from the breeding facility tested positive for canine brucellosis.

She added that the dogs will remain under quarantine until they can be tested again, ensuring that they aren’t affected. The website for the breeder in Marion County, southeast of Des Moines, appears to have been taken down. Its Facebook page last week said it was “closed for business.”

Dubovi said the disease is “of high concern” and can cause commercial breeders to lose multiple litters of puppies if undetected. The Iowa Department of Health also warns against breeding dogs before testing for the disease.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many dogs were infected in Iowa. Heinz has posted updates from the quarantine on the shelter’s Facebook page. Last week, she went cage to cage describing the dogs it had recently acquired, many of which were in “really bad shape.”

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Heinz said in the video. “But they are going to know a good life because I’m just sure that our next tests are going to wind up negative as well.”

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