August 1, 2017

Purdue's Veterinary Teaching Hospital diagnoses, treats dog with rare infectious disease

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Everything seemed great for Spice, a 2-year-old Australian heeler rescue from Oklahoma. A nice woman in Indiana had just adopted her and promised her a forever home. However, things took a turn for the worst soon after moving to Indiana.

Spice developed a high fever and appeared to be in an immense amount of pain, said Andrew Woolcock, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at Purdue University.

Her owner, Joyce Rosenbrock, brought Spice to the Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where doctors discovered that she had a very rare infectious disease caused by a protozoa called Hepatozoon americanum.

“It’s a disease not seen here in Indiana,” Woolcock said. “Spice’s unique set of symptoms, along with her travel history, made this rare disease a top suspect in her case and it turned out to be just that.”

Dogs contract this organism after ingesting a tick that contains the protozoa, Woolcock said. This is unique because most tick-borne diseases are transmitted by the bite of the tick. The organisms spread primarily into the muscle tissue, causing severe inflammation and pain.

“It is a disease that can be fatal if left untreated, but Spice got here in time and we were able to treat her,” he said.

Woolcock says this is the first time that this disease has been diagnosed and treated at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Purdue.

 “It is a disease primarily seen in the Gulf Coast states in the South and, actually, only about 15 states in the United States have reported seeing this disease,” he says.

Doctors treated Spice with a combination of anti-microbials, similar to those used to treat malaria in people. Spice’s fever and pain resolved within a few days, but it may take more than a year for the dog to be fully clear of the organism.

Woolcock says that owners, regardless of where they live, should be vigilant about using a monthly tick and flea preventative. He also says to make sure that every pet in the home is treated because if one untreated pet gets a diseased tick, the disease can be transmitted to other pets in the home.

Dr. Allison Kendall, a resident in internal medicine, and Rachel Kohanov, a fourth-year vet student, helped with the case. 

Writer: Megan Huckaby, mhuckaby@purdue.edu, 765-496-1325

Source: Andrew Woolcock, awoolcoc@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: B-roll of Spice and the Purdue veterinarians can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZmvUHGUyqc.

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