From pets to people, the transmission of animal pathogens – an interview with Leah Blondeau

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In this interview we speak to Leah Blondeau (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada) about her research into the pathogens that can be passed from companion animals to humans, recently presented in a poster at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infection Disease (ECCMID; 12–16 April, Amsterdam, the Netherlands).

First, could you introduce yourself and give a brief summary your career to date?

My name is Leah Blondeau. I graduated from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts and Science with a major in Criminology and a certificate in Forensic Science. In 2017, I graduated from The University of Western Australia with a Masters of Forensic Science, specializing in forensic anthropology. I am currently working towards my PhD in microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.

Could you briefly outline your research?

Currently, I am investigating cases of human infections caused by bacteria known to be associated with colonization or infection of companion animals. Once we identify human cases, we seek permission to collect samples from household pets. Using a variety of methods and techniques, we compare the human isolated strains with the animal isolated strains and then try and determine a potential mechanism of transfer. We are also investigating if some patient populations (i.e. oncology) are more at risk from animal pathogen infection.

You presented a case report Staphylococcus pseudintermedius at ECCMID – do you think pets could be a source of other zoonotic bacteria?

I think this is very possible. Literature shows that zoonotic bacteria such as Bartonella henselae and Pasteurella multocida are found in domesticated species such as dogs, cats, poultry or assorted livestock. Case reports already exist in the literature documenting human infections with animal pathogens. However, a mechanism of transmission is not clearly identified.

What are the challenges surrounding the prevention of zoonotic disease transmission and how could these be overcome?

One challenge is for laboratories to accurately identify pathogens that may be of animal origin. Recent advancements in technology such as MALDI-TOF or Vitek II have allowed more accurate identification of animal pathogens, However, not all laboratories have this technology. Currently, there is insufficient data on colonization rates of humans with animal pathogens. Another issue is drug resistance to key antibiotics used in both human and veterinary medicine.

What impact do you think your work will have for patients and pet owners?

This research will raise awareness on the movement of bacteria between animals and humans, and humans and animals. Such data could heighten awareness on the potential for organism transmission when dogs potentially come in contact with open wounds or sores that may be present on their human owners. As well, this research may identify certain patient populations, such as those immunocompromised, that might be at an increased risk with bacteria of animal origin. This data could also help inform rules around therapy dogs and at-risk patient populations.

What research are you looking at doing next?

We are also studying antimicrobial susceptibility and resistance. We are also investigating the scope of infections that may be caused in humans by animal pathogens.

Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to add?

Thank you for this opportunity to showcase my research. I am looking forward to the publications of my results.

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