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Dozens of people got diarrhea from puppy poop bacteria

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The CDC and USDA are investigating a diarrhea outbreak linked to a pet store chain

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff

That little doggie in the window could give you diarrhea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say — particularly if it came from Petland.

The agency is investigating an outbreak of a bacterial infection that gave 39 people in seven states stomach aches, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, and fevers. The bacteria, called Campylobacter, usually spreads when people eat raw or undercooked chicken. But the CDC and the US Department of Agriculture discovered a surprising source for this latest outbreak: puppies.

All of the people infected “were exposed to puppies sold through Petland stores,” the CDC reports. Twelve were Petland employees. The rest had either bought a puppy from the nationwide chain shortly before the illness started, visited one of the stores, or had been in the home of puppy purchased from Petland.

The investigation is continuing, but the CDC called the Petland puppies a “likely source.” The agency has already found a smoking gun: when investigators sequenced the genomes of the Campylobacter found in some of the puppies’ feces, they discovered that the bacteria was a close genetic relative to the bacteria found in one of the infected humans’ poop.

The bacteria probably spread in the traditional way: insufficient hand-washing. When people touched the poop of a sick dog, and then touched food, they might have exposed themselves, the CDC says. Infected dogs can show the same symptoms as people — but only some of the Petland puppies appeared ill, the Washington Post reports. Of course, dogs can’t complain aloud about stomach aches.

The good news is that pet owners don’t need to plastic-wrap their pooches. They just need to wash their hands after touching their animal, its poop, and its food — and to take their puppy to the vet if it looks sick.

If you’re serious about avoiding an infection from your dog, don’t let Fido lick you on or around your mouth, the CDC advises. It makes sense, really. Anyone who’s watched a dog lick itself knows where that tongue has been.