INVERNESS (FOX 13) - A deadly illness infecting dogs at the Citrus County Animal Services shelter has been identified and can spread to humans.
Shelter officials have confirmed they are dealing with a rare airborne bacteria called Streptococcus Zooepidemicus or Strep Zoo.
Officials say all of the animals at the shelter are now on antibiotics and employees are wearing hazardous material gear to deal with them. There have been no reports of human infections, but there's still a risk that both humans and animals in the community could catch this illness.
“It's obviously in our community it came from an animal that came into the shelter,” said shelter operations manager Colleen Yarbrough.
With confirmation of the rare disease shutting down the Citrus County Animal Shelter, experts are warning county residents to keep a close eye on the health of their pets and their loved ones.
“Humans are not the intended target but unfortunately if the right opportunity presents itself they can become infected,” said FOX 13’s Medical Reporter Dr. Joette Giovinco.
Dr. Jo explains Strep Zoo could do serious damage to the human body if left untreated.
“It can affect the bloodstream. It can cause meningitis. It can affect joints like the shoulder or the knee and it can also embed itself in some of the valves surrounding the heart,” she said.
Yarbrough, meanwhile, says the shelter first noticed the illness in just one dog, then it spread to two more. Unfortunately, all three of them had to be put down.
“We're not 100 percent sure who was patient zero. We're assuming it's one of our strays,” said Yarbrough. “Even if they're carrying it they may harbor it and be shedding it but not actually symptomatic.”
In total, 15 dogs are now sick, but no other animals or humans have shown any symptoms. Officials say it can take two to five days before there are signs something is wrong.
“Dogs can go from happy-go-lucky to immediate distress and even be found dead,” said Yarbrough.
Officials plan to open a temporary shelter for strays since it will likely be another 10 to 14 days before the shelter could get back to normal. However, if another dog gets sick then they have to restart from the date of the last sick animal.
Anyone who has visited the shelter or reclaimed or adopted an animal from the shelter in the past two weeks is encouraged to contact a veterinarian immediately.