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Ask the Vet: Can Humans Get Parvo from Puppies or Dogs?

Can Humans Get Parvo from Puppies?

"Can humans get parvo from puppies or dogs?" is a question that concerned dog owners may worry about. Perhaps your puppy has contracted parvo and you are worried whether your children or other family members may catch it from your dog. Truth is, there is a form of parvo that humans can get, but fortunately it is not the same type that puppies get. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic helps clear up the confusion differentiating puppy parvo from the human version of parvo that commonly affects children.

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Can humans get parvo from puppies?

Parvovirus in Dogs 

Canine parvovirus type 2, more commonly referred to as parvo, is a highly contagious virus mainly affecting dogs, and in particular puppies. There is belief that canine parvovirus is a mutated version of feline panleukopenia virus found in cats.

On top of affected puppies and dogs, this infectious disease has also been known for infecting other animals, including cats, wolves, foxes and skunks. However, the good news is that parvo is not categorized as a zoonotic disease, meaning that it will not infect humans.

The majority of parvovirus cases are seen in unvaccinated dogs and puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months but parvo can affect even adult dogs. Untreated cases have high mortality rates (up to 90 percent), but fortunately vaccination can easily prevent this infection.

There are usually two manifestations of this virus; the intestinal form is the most common form with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), weight loss, and loss of appetite. This form is contracted by contact with the virus, usually orally, and after this step, the virus is replicated in the lymphoid tissue in the dog's throat.

After replication, the virus spreads to the dog's bloodstream. The most affected cells are the ones rapidly dividing like bone marrow and lymph nodes. As the intestines becomes affected, rapid onset of symptoms is present, which can result in quick death.

The cardiac form of dog parvo is the less common form, manifesting itself in the heart muscle of very young puppies (even fetuses), and this form of disease most often leads to death. This form is characterized by cardiovascular or respiratory failure in puppies under eight weeks of age that have usually been infected while still in utero. In this form, the virus targets weak heart muscle. Although uncommon, some dogs can survive this, but have complications in later life.

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How do Puppies Get Parvo?

Parvovirus is spread directly by dog-to-dog contact, or by indirect contact with contaminated surfaces (fomites), feces, or people. The virus is NOT airborne, it requires physical contact. Besides the fact that the parvovirus is highly contagious, it is also resistant to the effects of alcohol, detergents, or heat so it can remain in the environment (and soil) for even up to one year.

Stability of the virus means two things, first, even if the dog is not in contact with other dogs, it can get infected (the virus travels on shoes), and second, the virus can reoccur in animals if unvaccinated or with lapsed vaccination protocols. Kennels and shelters are particularly hazardous places due to the density of animals.

With all enlisted facts, decontamination is an important factor in the prevention of spreading the disease. This means decontamination of all the areas where the infected or treated dog eliminates its waste. Parvovirus can be destroyed by a water-bleach solution (10 to 1 ratio).

There is a consensus that another dog should not be brought into the area where an infected dog previously eliminated its waste, even if the area is cleaned. Also, a new dog must have all vaccines against parvo up-to- date. A dog that survived parvo can shed the virus into his feces for up to three weeks.

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Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies 

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The incubation period between contracting the disease and first symptoms is usually 3 to 10 days. The first symptom is lethargy and loss of appetite. The intestinal form of the disease affects absorption in the digestive tract, which leads to dehydration, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Body temperature is usually low, rather than fever.

For unknown reasons, certain dog breeds, such as Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, and Alaskan sled dogs, are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Parvo is one of the scariest diseases with a rapid onset of clinical symptoms, and, if untreated, death occurs after 24 to 48 hours. While there is no official cure for parvo, aggressive supportive therapy started as soon as possible can have an effective outcome. Left untreated, the disease has 90 percent mortality, with 5 to 20 percent mortality rate if treated. The earlier the treatment begins, the better the outcome.Treatment usually includes IV, blood and blood plasma transfusions and different supportive medications (antibiotics, anti-nausea medication).

Parvo vaccination is one of the most significant steps in preventing the disease. The puppy is vaccinated against Provo at the age of three to four months, and this vaccination protocol requires a set of three vaccines. Before that, dogs have maternal immunity, derived from their vaccinated mothers, but dogs that are not yet fully vaccinated should be kept from all possibilities of contracting the virus.

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Parvovirus in Humans 

Fifth disease is a skin rash in children caused by parvovirus B19. Adults can get infected too. The name of the disease came from the classification of most common skin rashes in children where this disease was classified on the fifth place.

This disease is also known as the slapped-cheek disease with a distinctive facial rash found mostly on both cheeks. In children, this disease is mild and can be asymptomatic, while in adults can lead to more severe symptoms, especially in a pregnant woman.

Can Humans Get Parvo From Puppies or Dogs?

Because fifth disease, is also known as parvovirus B19, this has led to confusion often contributing to the belief that it is possible that humans get parvo from puppies. As mentioned earlier, canine parvo is not categorized as a zoonotic disease, meaning that it will not infect humans.

Also, parvovirus B19 is susceptible only to humans, so a person cannot get the virus from the animal, cat, dog or other mammals.

And what about the opposite, can puppies or dogs get parvo from humans? Dogs and cats cannot get parvovirus B19 from an infected human. Parvoviruses that infect dogs and cats are different viral strain entirely.

"Since parvovirus B19 only infects humans, a person cannot get the virus from a dog or cat. Also, dogs and cats cannot get parvovirus B19 from an infected person. Pet dogs and cats can get infected with other parvoviruses that do not infect humans. Pets can be vaccinated to protect them from parvovirus infection."~Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About the Author 

DVM Ivana Vukasinovic is a veterinarian in Belgrade, capital city of Serbia. She received her B.S from University of Belgrade in 2012, and her master’s degree from Veterinary University, Belgrade.


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