[email protected] Dekalb, IL


August 24, 2020

Coyotes roaming the hills of Los Angeles carry at least one disease previously undetected locally, which in rare situations could pose a threat to people and their pets, public health authorities said.

Veterinarians are voicing new fears because a dog that was bitten by a coyote in Woodland Hills has contracted the rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked a researcher to investigate the illness, which surfaced in a Danish schipperkes dog that was bitten by a coyote June 13. It contracted what a veterinarian believes is a strain of bartonella.

The dog has had a 104-degree fever and its eyes were bleeding internally, causing blindness. The owner feared she would have to put her dog to sleep, but the dog seems to be recovering.

“I think the situation is a lot worse than they are telling people,” said Julie Didier, who owns 6-year-old Sugar Bear. “I think it’s a political hot potato, and they don’t want to face the facts that these coyotes are overpopulated here.”

As a result of the Woodland Hills case and others, researchers are investigating whether Bartonella vinsonii found in about 30 percent of coyotes in California could be transmitted to people.

County health authorities performed routine investigations of diseases in coyotes until 1993 when the City Council placed severe limitations on trapping, essentially ending the practice. They said they have tested coyote carcasses periodically since and found coyotes carry many diseases: babesiosis, blastomycosis, canine hepatitis, hepatozoonosis, histoplasmosis, hookworms, scabies, American trypanosomiasis and the plague.

Patrick Ryan, chief of veterinary public health at the county Department of Health Services, said it’s unlikely people could get one of those diseases from a coyote, but their dogs and cats could be at risk.

“As far as we’ve found, coyotes at this point are not a disease threat,” Ryan said. “When studying an animal you will find various diseases. However, finding diseases is not necessarily a reason to reduce the animal’s population.”

Between 1986 and 1993, 23 coyotes tested positive for plague. Several of the coyotes were from locations within the city. A known epidemic of bubonic plague was reported in the Griffith Park area. Other plague sites included Burbank, Glendale, La Canada-Flintridge and Sunland.

Dr. Shirley Fannin, director of disease control programs in the county, said the biggest threat coyotes pose are attacks on people, especially children.

“They are also canines so we are always watching them to see if they have rabies,” she said. “I’m sure there are quite a few diseases they are prone to.”

In the case of Bartonella vinsonii, the disease has been found in only one human, a Wyoming rancher who survived the disease that causes swelling of the lymph nodes and infections of the heart and eyes.

The rancher is believed to have gotten the disease from a tick, but it’s not known if the tick was infected by a coyote.

Edward Breitschwerdt, professor of medicine and infectious diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, intends to obtain blood samples of the dog and has talked with Didier’s veterinarian. He wants to determine if Didier’s dog has Bartonella vinsonii and if it’s possible for Didier or other people to contract it.

Didier’s veterinarian refused to comment.

“We deal primarily with human health and public health issues at the CDC,” said Chris Paddock, medical officer with the Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch of the CDC in Atlanta, Ga. He referred Didier’s call about her dog to Breitschwerdt, a bartonella expert.

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