Rare Parasitic Disease Kills 21 Dogs


Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


MILLBROOK, N.Y. (AP) — A parasitic disease rarely found in this country has killed 21 foxhounds and has sickened at least 20 others, prompting the national fox-hunting organization to cancel events. The disease can also affect humans.

One after another, the hounds at Millbrook Hunt in Dutchess County became lethargic. Losing weight and patches of hair, the dogs developed enlarged joints, crusty skin lesions and rope-like knots underneath their skin.

The culprit was identified this spring by researchers at North Carolina State University as a strain of leishmaniasis, typically found in warm, coastal areas like Brazil, the Mediterranean, India and the Sudan.

Normally transmitted by sand flies, the disease is considered curable in humans, but it has killed people in other countries. It has rarely been diagnosed in the United States.

Among foxhounds, the disease has been found in kennels in 20 states and Canada, but only the Millbrook hounds have died.

``This should not be in the U.S.,'' Edward B. Breitschwerdt, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at North Carolina State, told The New York Times. ``We're truly dealing with a foreign animal disease that remains very unclear to all of us still.''

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is testing people who have come into contact with the foxhounds in Millbrook and collecting samples from 10,000 dogs around the country.

While 12 percent of the 9,000 hounds tested so far have shown some blood-test evidence of infection, only 1 percent have been confirmed as being infected, said Dr. Peter Schantz, a veterinarian and epidemiologist in the CDC's division of parasitic diseases.

The Millbrook dogs started dying a year ago.

This spring, the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the sport's national governing body, canceled all fox-hunting events and urged kennels to quarantine leishmaniasis-positive dogs.

``We're being super-cautious, because nobody knows all the answers,'' said Dennis Foster, the organization's executive director. ``If there's any question, we don't do it, that's our philosophy.''

The Times said the disease probably came to this country when an American soldier returned from overseas with an infected dog. The disease was diagnosed in several soldiers during the Persian Gulf War, the newspaper said.

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North Carolina State University: http://www.ncsu.edu

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov

Masters of Foxhounds Association: http://www.mfha.com