October is Leptospirosis awareness month. Take a moment to review some facts about this zoonotic disease.
What is Leptospirosis? It is a disease caused by a spiral shaped Leptospira bacteria that can infect wildlife, domestic pets, and humans. Many wildlife are carriers of the bacteria and do not have any clinical symptoms of the disease.
How is it transmitted? The bacteria are passed in the urine to water sources where they can live and reproduce. They can survive for a long time in water (especially stagnant water, ponds, or lakes) and wet soil. Animals become infected by drinking or swimming in water that is contaminated by the bacteria. It can enter the bloodstream through the mucous membranes or through a wound or cut.
Can it be prevented? Vaccinating dogs and livestock for leptospirosis is an important part of prevention, especially in areas where the disease is prevalent. Avoid stagnant water. Practice good hygiene and wash hands frequently- especially if there is contact that may have any urine on it.
What are the symptoms? The symptoms can resemble those of the flu virus. Fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weakness, and lethargy are some symptoms. Some dogs may have jaundice if the liver is severely affected. Bloodwork of a leptospirosis infected dog often has increased kidney and liver values. If a dog is suspected of having leptospirosis, make sure technicians handling the dog and the dog’s urine contaminated bedding, etc. wear gloves and protective clothing. The time between exposure and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more. Cats seem to have some natural resistance and infection is rare in this species.
How is Leptospirosis treated? Treatment for leptospirosis involves supportive therapies including IV fluid diuresis and antibiotics. Leptospirosis is often treated with a combination of antibiotics including amoxicillin and doxycycline. The disease can be fatal, and the best chance for a good outcome is early diagnosis and treatment.