Could Your Dog Give You Norovirus?

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the US. You can also catch it from infected people and contaminated surfaces. Now, new research raises the question of whether humans can catch it from dogs.
dog and young girl
The study raises enough evidence for a further investigation into whether dogs can pass norovirus onto humans.

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, veterinarian Sarah Caddy and colleagues explain how they found some dogs can mount an immune response to human norovirus – a strong clue that they have been infected by the bug.

Caddy, who is working toward her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London in the UK, says:

“We also confirmed that human norovirus can bind to the cells of the canine gut, which is the first step required for infection of cells.”

Together with evidence that human norovirus has been isolated from domestic dogs in Europe, the findings raise concerns that people could catch the bug from animals.

Norovirus is a leading cause of gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu,” causing vomiting and diarrhea in both adults and children. It is very contagious and can infect anyone. You can catch it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or from contaminated surfaces.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US every year norovirus is responsible for 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis and contributes to 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and the elderly.

Human norovirus particles can bind to dog intestinal tissue

For their study, Caddy and colleagues used noninfectious human norovirus particles – comprising just the bug’s outer protein coat, or capsid. The capsid is the part of the virus that binds to host cells. Capsids alone cannot cause infection because they lack the internal machinery of the virus.

The team studied the ability of capsids to bind to tissue samples from dog intestines in test tubes. They found evidence that seven different strains of human norovirus may be able to bind to canine gastrointestinal tissue. This suggests “that infection is at least theoretically possible,” they note.

The researchers also carried out other tests to discover if dogs can carry human norovirus.

While they found no trace of the virus in stool samples from 248 dogs (including some with diarrhea), they did find evidence of antibodies to human norovirus in blood samples from 43 out of 325 dogs.

It is currently not known whether human norovirus can cause clinical disease in dogs. Assuming that it can, the study found no evidence that dogs can shed it in sufficient quantities to infect humans. However, the authors note that other studies have suggested as few as 18 virus particles can cause human infection.

There is also little evidence that dogs or animals are involved in spreading norovirus among people when large outbreaks occur, such as on cruise ships and in hospitals.

Evidence from this study is sufficient to warrant further investigation

Nevertheless, the authors conclude that their study provides sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation into whether human norovirus can survive in nonhuman animals and spread from them to people.

Caddy says she got interested in doing the study through her experience as a small animal veterinarian and dog owner. She says in her practice, dog owners often ask her if their dogs can pass infections on to them or whether they can pass them to their pets. She adds:

“There are plenty of anecdotal cases of dogs and humans in the same household, having simultaneous gastroenteritis, but very little rigorous scientific research is conducted in this area.

Until more definitive data is available, sensible hygiene precautions should be taken around pets, especially when gastroenteritis in either humans or dogs is present in a household.”

Dog Sledding Offers A Healthy Dose Of Adventure For Children With Cancer

A team of sled dogs racing through the snowy forests of northern Canada conjures up the timeless spirit of exploration. But the intrepid youths on the sleds may not be exactly what you’re picturing – they’re young girls and boys with cancer.

Young Patient Bonds with Sled Dog
A young cancer patient bonds with a sled dog as part of an expedition organized by Sourire à la Vie
Credit: Credit to Emmanuelle Compte

A common perception of the pediatric cancer patient is a frail youth whose childhood experiences are tragically curtailed by the disease. Now, the results of a new preliminary study published in ecancermedicalscience show that children with cancer may benefit from a different kind of treatment – a healthy dose of adventure.

The study follows eleven children aged 10-18 years, and five chaperones including doctors and nurses, on an expedition organized by the French non-profit Sourire à la Vie, which supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients.

“What I learned from this study is that we doctors have the false belief that kids with cancer cannot practice sport because they are too tired or weak from their treatments,” says the corresponding author of the study, Dr. Nicolas André. He’s a pediatric oncologist at the Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Marseille, France.

“These perceptions are at least partly wrong,” Dr. André says. “Adapted physical activities can be performed by most children with cancer even during their treatment, and can bring a lot to children.”

All of the eleven children received adapted physical training and exercises before the expedition. The children successfully completed the program without harm – and they demonstrated statistically significant improvement in both physical and psychological health.

The children participated in other activities, such as snow exercises, as well as caring for the sled dogs.

“One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on the change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals,” explains study author Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

The health and safety of the children were of paramount concern, Sotteau says. “We did not compromise regarding security, so we carefully prepared the expedition hand-in-hand with Canadian associations and doctors.”

“Based on our work over the last eight years, we all are convinced that practicing adapted physical activity is very positive for children with cancer,” comments study author Professor Laurent Grélot, a researcher at Aix-Marseille University, France. “It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning can decrease treatment-induced fatigue, and can help maintaining social integration.”

“It is now time to demonstrate these results.”

Based on the success of this study, the researchers have collected enough funding to initiate a randomized trial to evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. But perhaps the best take-home message comes from the children themselves.

“Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts,” says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. “This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again.”

“I have been dog sledding for 6 hours a day,” adds Nell, a 12-year-old patient. “I am very proud, and I feel so good now.”

Pilot evaluation of physical and psychological effects of a physical trek program including a dog sledding expedition in children and teenagers with cancer. ecancer 9 558 / DOI: 10.3332/ecancer.2015.558


Source: EurekAlert!, the online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society

Therapy Dogs Have Calming Effect On Children Having Cancer Treatment

There are many stories of the positive effect that therapy dogs can have on children with cancer and their families. But until now, there has been little hard scientific evidence to back them up.
young girl with dog
The study suggests therapy dogs can have a calming effect on young cancer patients.

A new trial presents some of the first solid data to support anecdotal reports of the positive impact dog therapy programs can have on children with cancer and their families.

The preliminary findings are to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC, on Sunday, October 25th.

Around 1 in 285 children in the US will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20. Survival rates for kids with cancer have improved dramatically in past decades. The number who die within 5 years of diagnosis has declined by more than 50% from 1975-1977 to 2007-2010.

However, this improvement has not been matched by evidence of what can be done to improve quality of life for these young patients and their families.

Therapy dogs are an example of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), where animals form part of the treatment of human patients. The aim is to improve the patient’s social, emotional or mental functioning and well-being.

Many hospitals now have therapy dogs that visit patients and their families, and the new trial takes place at five such hospitals in the US.

‘The therapy dog may have a calming effect on the patient’

The new study is part of the Canines and Childhood Cancer (CCC) research project run by the American Humane Association and funded by Zoetis – an independent global animal health company, formerly part of Pfizer.

The project is looking at the effects of AAT on the child, the family and also the therapy dog.

Measures of blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels are collected before and after a weekly visit from the therapy dog. During the visits, the children pet or talk to their therapy dog, brush its coat, look at photos of the dog, watch it perform tricks and obey commands and learn about dog breeds.

Preliminary results show that blood pressure readings in the groups receiving AAT interventions remained more stable across all sessions than in the control group that did not receive AAT, notes lead researcher Dr. Amy McCullough, national director of humane research and therapy for the American Humane Association.

The researchers also found a higher degree of variability in heart rate in the control group patients than in the patients who received AAT interventions. Dr. McCullough says:

“These findings suggest that the dog may have a calming effect on the patient.”

The following video describes the purpose and history of the CCC project and gives some examples of therapy dogs and the patients who can benefit from them:

Therapy dogs also had calming effect on the parents

So far, the trial has enrolled 68 children diagnosed with cancer of ages ranging from 3-17 years. Thirty-nine of the children are in the treatment group and 29 are in the control group. The researchers expect to enroll around the same number again before the study ends in 2016.

The preliminary findings also suggest that the therapy dogs have a calming effect on the parents of the young patients.

Parents of children in the control group reported fluctuating anxiety levels with peaks and troughs, while parents in the treatment group showed more stable anxiety levels and even a slight decline as they approached the end of their involvement in the study.

Overall, the children in both groups saw a fall in anxiety over the course of their involvement in the study.

The researchers are also investigating the effect of the intervention on the dogs, looking at their temperament and behavior during the visits. Dr. McCullough concludes:

“This study will be a milestone in understanding of the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals.”

She says she and her colleagues hope the results will increase the use of therapy dogs and enhance their training and practice, as well as improve outcomes for children and families facing the challenges of childhood cancer.

The new study follows another that Medical News Today reported earlier this year by researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, who found hard evidence that therapy dogs improve the emotional well-being of adult cancer patients undergoing complex treatments. Some of the cancer patients at the New York hospital said they would have stopped their treatment before completion had it not been for the presence of the certified therapy dog and volunteer handler.

Children With Pets Have Less Stress

A pet dog may protect your child from childhood anxiety, according to research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[dog and girl]
Dogs follow human communication cues.

Childhood mental illness and obesity are significant public health concerns in the US. Since they start in childhood, preventive and early intervention approaches are needed.

Pet dogs have been linked with health benefits for adults, as promoted by the US Public Health Service (USPHS).

In Australia and the UK, dog ownership has been linked with increased physical activity among children aged 5-12 years and healthier body mass index (BMI) in those aged 5-6 years, due to walking and active play.

Such data is lacking in the US, so more evidence is needed to support pet ownership as a health strategy.

How can pets help mental health?

Pets can stimulate conversation, creating an ice-breaking effect that alleviates social anxiety. Dogs also tend to follow human communicative cues, which could help in emotional development.

Children aged 7-8 years have previously ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem, and as confidants.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) with dogs reduces anxiety and arousal, alleviates separation anxiety and enhances attachment in children, thereby improving mental health and reducing developmental disorders.

Promoting children’s behavioral and emotional competence can help prevent mental, emotional and behavioral disorders during adulthood.

If exposure to pet dogs during childhood can help achieve these goals, positive child­-­dog interactions could prevent potential problems from developing during adolescence or later life.

However, there is little evidence for primary care providers to use when counseling parents regarding the benefits of pet dogs for young children.

Can a dog help improve BMI and anxiety?

In the current study, researchers from Bassett Medical Center in New York investigated the hypothesis that pet dogs are positively associated with healthy weight and mental health among children.

The study looked at 643 children aged 4-10 years, with an average age of 6.7 years, over an 18-month period in a pediatric primary care setting. Of these, 45% were female, 56% were privately insured and 58% had pet dogs in the home.

Before an annual visit, parents completed a health risk screener online, focusing on child BMI, physical activity, screen time, mental health and pet ownership.

Confounders included the fact that pet-owning families may differ from those without pets, for example in socioeconomic environment, a known social determinant of health; family income has been significantly associated with adolescent mental health, so the researchers adjusted for this factor.

Less stress for children with dogs

No difference was found between children with and without a pet dog regarding BMI, screen time or physical activity.

But among the 58% of children with a dog in the home, 12% tested positive on a screening test for anxiety, compared with 21% of children who did not have a pet dog.

A strength of the study is that it was carried out in a real-world setting and was based on children in preventive care, a far larger and more inclusive group than in previous studies, which focused on children with mental and developmental disorders.

Parental reporting could be a limitation, although statistics have shown high concordance between actual mental health issues and what parents say.

The researchers suggest:

“Interacting with a friendly dog also reduces cortisol levels, most likely through oxytocin release, which lessens physiologic responses to stress. These hormonal effects may underlie the observed emotional and behavioral benefits of animal-assisted therapy and pet dogs.”