Dear Doctor: Is it true that dog treats made from pigs’ ears are giving humans a dangerous infection? I don’t buy them because, honestly, they look kind of gross, but our dog sitter brings them over sometimes. Should we be worried?
Dear Reader: You’re referring to a series of alerts issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an outbreak of salmonella infections, which have been identified as being resistant to several different antibiotics. These infections have been tied to dog chews made out of pig ears.
As of the CDC’s latest update on July 17, a total of 93 people living in 27 states have become ill, including 20 individuals who had to be hospitalized. No deaths have been reported at this time. If you have these dog treats in your home, the CDC recommends wrapping them securely and disposing of them. Use hot, soapy water to wash anything that came into contact with the treats, including surfaces, containers and, of course, your hands.
Salmonella is a group of bacteria that cause about 1.2 million people to become sick each year. They can cause an illness known as salmonellosis, which develops as soon as 12 hours and up to three days after ingesting the bacterium. The infection often occurs when feces infected with the bacteria comes into contact with food or water and is unknowingly consumed. Symptoms, which include fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, last from four to seven days. Although the majority of people recover without medical treatment, in some cases the diarrhea can be severe enough to require hospitalization.
The danger is that a salmonella infection can move from the intestines into the bloodstream, and then spread to other areas of the body. The infection is particularly risky for children under age 5, for the elderly, for individuals who are medically frail and for those with weakened or suppressed immune systems. Treatment typically focuses on managing diarrhea and pain, preventing dehydration and, if the infection has spread via the bloodstream, the use of antibiotics.
Pig ear treats are just the most recent source of a salmonella outbreak. In recent years, sources as diverse as pet guinea pigs, pet hedgehogs, dog food, papayas, sprouts, nut butters, backyard chickens, small turtles and chicken salad have been linked to outbreaks. In response to the current outbreak, Pet Supplies Plus, a distributor of bulk pig ears, which are stored in large, open bins, has agreed to a voluntary recall of the treats. At this time, pre-packaged pig ear treats from individual brands are not part of the recall.
Pets can also become ill from a salmonella infection. Their symptoms can include lethargy, diarrhea that may be bloody, vomiting and fever. Pets with salmonella infections may be sluggish, run a fever, begin vomiting and have diarrhea that may contain blood or mucus.
For the latest information on the current outbreak, visit cdc.gov/salmonella.