CDC: Pet store puppies linked to bacterial outbreak in 18 states

More than 100 people, including Georgians, have been sickened in the past two years

Cuddly pet store puppies have made hundreds of people sick, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

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In its Friday Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Atlanta-based CDC reported that puppies with Campylobacter jejuni —a bacteria that causes about 1.3 million diarrheal illnesses in the United States annually — are to blame for at least 118 people in 18 states falling ill over the past two years.

The CDC linked the outbreak to puppies from six pet store companies, mainly in Ohio and Florida. The report doesn’t name the companies.

Pet store employees at the stores may have been overtreating the animals with antibiotics, according to the report. More than half of the 142 puppies investigated had been given antibiotics to prevent infections, but not to really treat a condition. Some puppies also received broad-spectrum antibiotics, which can kill both good and bad bacteria. This allows bacterial strains like Campylobacter jejuni to take over.

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There have been at least four cases in Georgia, including a Gwinnett teen who was hospitalized earlier this year.

Katie Singleton, who worked at the Mall of Georgia Petland store, was hospitalized for several days.

"Essentially, it felt like you were dying," she told Channel 2 Action News consumer investigator Jim Strickland.

Most of the illnesses have been reported in Florida and Ohio. Twenty-nine of the 118 people affected worked in pet stores.

Although the CDC has concluded its investigation, it reports the risk of illness continues because the "prolonged nature of the outbreak and the potential for puppy commingling indicates a potential for continued transmission of multidrug-resistant Campylobacter industrywide, including at breeders, distributors, transporters, and stores, and ultimately in customers' homes."

Although most people who are otherwise healthy will recover within a week, infants, people over 65 and those with a weakened immune system could face complications.

About 1 in every 1,000 reported Campylobacter illnesses leads to Guillain-Barré syndrome. GBS can lead to muscle weakness and sometimes temporary paralysis. Nearly 40 percent of GBS cases in the United States may be triggered by Campylobacter infection, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection are diarrhea (often bloody), fever and abdominal cramps. The diarrhea might be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually start two to five days after exposure and last about a week.

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