Masters of Foxhounds Cancel Meets and Lead Attempt to Prevent Disease Spread

Masters of Foxhounds Cancel Meets and Lead Attempt to Prevent Disease Spread

Leishmaniasis invades foxhound kennels

By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease generally limited to tropical and subtropical areas, has been found in several Foxhound kennels in the US.

The disease was discovered this summer when hounds at a New York hunt club became deathly ill with skin lesions, nose bleeds, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, seizures, swollen joints and kidney failure. Although it can also infect people, this outbreak seems to be confined to Foxhounds.

As a result of the disease episode, the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America cancelled its remaining interpack meets for the year, recommended that huntsmen keep their dogs at home, and joined forces with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Walter Reed Army Medical Center to determine the prevalence - and hopefully the means of transmission - of the disease. The Foxhound Club of North America donated $10,000 to hire an additional technician to conduct the tests.

CDC checked dogs from hunts near the infected New York kennel and pet dogs, horses, and rodents in the area, and all were negative for the disease. Veterinarians at North Carolina State University worked with CDC to collect blood and genetic samples from dogs kept in hunt kennels throughout the country and in Canada. By early August, more than 7000 of the 12,000 MFHA registered foxhounds had been tested, and signs of the disease were noted in hounds in 21 states.

About 12 percent of the dogs had some anti-bodies to the disease, indicating that they had been exposed to the parasite. MFHA recommended that dogs with low or moderate anti-body counts be isolated for observation and retested in six months and that dogs with high anti-body counts be given a DNA test of tissue or fluid from the lymph nodes, spleen, or bone marrow.

The scientists also tested more than 400 pet dogs (other than Foxhounds) throughout the country; none were infected.



The disease

Leishmaniasis is caused by a protozoa, a miniscule one-celled animal that wreaks havoc in a host body. The vector for leishmaniasis is a species of sandfly, a biting insect that transfers the protozoa from an infected animal to an uninfected animal. In the past, victims of this disease in the US have visited the Middle East, South America, or Africa where the sandfly lives, but these recent cases have occurred in animals that have not traveled in these areas. Scientists are baffled about the source of the hounds' disease, not only because the host sandfly species does not exist in the US, but because the affected dogs do not live in a tropical or subtropical area. So far, other biting insects have not been implicated as carriers.

Scientists at CDC believe that direct contact with secretions from an infected hound are necessary to contract the disease. Transmission is difficult; the protozoa are fragile and susceptible to both sunlight and water.

Treatment is expensive and drawn out, and mortality rate is high. Therefore, MFHA recommends that kennel managers keep alert to the disease symptoms, test dogs that appear to be sick, and euthanize affected dogs or donate them for clinical study. Dogs that die mysteriously should be subject to a necropsy by an informed pathologist, and any testing or retesting done in cooperation with CDC.

So far, leishmaniasis has not been a problem for pet owners or for kennel owners other than those involved in foxhunts. However, owners should be alert to the symptoms and the possibilities, especially since scientists have yet to discover the source of this outbreak or its mode of transmission.

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