Leptospirosis: A Growing Concern in Our Community

Many clients are unaware of Animal Hospital Jones Road and Animal Hospital Champion Northwest’s protocol regarding vaccinating dogs against leptospirosis, and the reason why this protective measure is necessary. We require dogs to have an annual leptospirosis vaccination. Previously our patients received an annual leptospirosis vaccination in conjunction with a combination vaccine (DHLPPC). We now vaccinate against many of these diseases once every three years because a manufacturer guaranteed, three-year vaccine is available for pets meeting the requirements. Currently, a three-year leptospirosisvaccine does not exist, and an annual vaccination is necessary for full protection. Today, because some veterinarians do not vaccinate dogs against leptospirosis, our population is at risk of coming in contact it.

Leptospirosis is actually a disease caused by a higher bacterium, and it is zoonotic, which means it transmits from animals to humans. There are many subtypes or serovars (approximately 250) of this particular organism. DVM in Focus magazine reported in June 2002, "leptospirosis is the number one infectious cause of acute renal failure in dogs." 

Until about five years ago, this disease was under control in the developed western world. However, a recent decrease in usage of preventative vaccine by veterinarians is causing an alarming rise in the prevalance of this disease in the U.S. There are approximately one to two hundred cases identified annually here, although the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control (CDC) ceased tracking incidence in 1995 when vaccination use controlled leptospirosis. Some experts theorize the actual incidence of leptospirosis may be much higher. It remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the rest of the world, and the CDC reports, "…leptospirosis is considered to be the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world."

Leptospirosis causes serious and potentially lethal acute kidney and liver failure. Liver failure as a result of leptospirosis is a chronic problem, and the North American Veterinary Conference 2005 clinician’s brief states the reported case-to-fatality rates are as high as 20% for dogs. Alarmingly, leptospirosis is difficult to diagnose, which means pet owners and pet health care workers are at greater risk to exposure. Its symptoms are non specific -- signs of lethargy, anorexia and fever -- and laboratory tests are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. When diagnosed properly, the treatment for leptospirosis is long term antibiotic use and intravenous fluid support. 

The primary animal species that carry this disease are rodents, skunks, moles, opossums, cattle, pigs and raccoons. The most common method of transmission of the disease is through contact with contaminated water infected with rodent urine, and it increased rainfall and flooding appear to elevate the number of cases. Retention ponds common to new housing developments can be a transmission source of leptospirosis in urban areas. The disease is more active during the rainy season, and it spreads when the bacterial organism comes in contact with mucous membranes, cut and/or abraded skin, bite wounds or coitus.

Leptospirosis is a re-emerging threat that is difficult to diagnose and costly to treat, but fortunately there is a solution. We can prevent the disease by vaccinating domestic pets, minimizing contact with contaminated water (do not let pets drink anything but clean water from sanitized bowls), and controlling the rodent population.

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