Sometimes you see a case so obviously infectious that it makes you want to put on a mask and yell for the Clorox as soon as the animal touches the exam room table. This, however, is a bedside-manner no-no. Professional though it might be from the standpoint of protecting your other patients, the reality is that no parent wants their pet treated like a pariah.
At first, this six-month-old pup looked like an obvious case of Parvovirus. Picked up off the filthy streets of inner city Miami, she was almost dead on arrival. A sub-95 degree temp with vomiting and bloody diarrhea, she looked every bit the parvo pup her CBC and parvo antigen test subsequently disproved.
Thank God! we all exclaimed as we let down our guard and started tending to what looked like a terrible toxicity or a non-viral gastroenteritis. Then the lab came through with the blood chemistry: severe kidney failure and apparent liver failure. We had scrambled out of the proverbial frying pan only to land in the fire. It suddenly looked as if we were now staring down either a really bad, inexplicable toxin…or Leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that comes from a germ that looks like a bacterium’s twisted cousin. It is one of those dreaded diseases we’ve gotten all up in arms about recently with respect to its vaccine. No one gets Lepto so why vaccinate against it? Tell that to my newest patient—not that she ever got the chance to receive any vaccine, much less the benefit of anyone arguing for her vaccination safety.
Lepto commonly lives in its reservoir of mice and rats. Inner city and rural pets are therefore most susceptible (we suburbanites are so rodent-phobic that rodenticide toxicity is far more common in our pets than Lepto—how’s that for a risk exchange?).
The most common problem we see in Lepto infectees is kidney failure coupled with a less-serious but still life-threatening liver failure. These dogs vomit—a lot. Their kidneys can’t clear the toxins from their blood so they end up feeling horribly nauseous. Their livers can’t work normally so the bile it makes spills out into the blood and so they end up looking horribly yellow.
Another day and this sweet rescuee would have been dead on the streets of Overtown, providing more food (and disease) for the rodent population that infected her.
But the current tragedy is potentially twofold: Not only is this pup severely diseased and miserable, but every day she’s alive to make more urine she exposes all of us to the risk of suffering the same should we come into contact with it. It happens to be one of those less-discriminating, body fluid-distributed, multi-species germs that thinks people are just as delectable as rats. (You can’t fault their logic given the state of humanity but that’s another topic altogether…)
Another issue: We won’t know for sure whether this disease is the culprit until the lab, working at its snail’s pace, makes its final determination known by way of business-day fax. Meanwhile, the two staff members dedicated to working with her (and who have open scratches up and down the lengths of their arms from an incident involving a wayward kitten) are taking antibiotics to thwart the germ’s progress. The aroma of Clorox permeates the entire hospital at all times, as a dilute bleach solution is the ideal killer of such a wily bug as Lepto. Signs adorn her cage urging caution.
And now one of this pup’s rescuers is beyond worrying about the insensitivity of posting pet-pariah signs all over the hospital. He’s sick, too. He probably has the flu. But I don’t think he’ll be taking any chances after taking one look at his hospitalized puppy. I suggested he see his doctor right away.
One more issue: What does this all cost? You’d probably assume that two twenty-five-year-olds living in the urban jungle probably don’t have the means for the kind of care we’re providing (not to mention the risk we’re taking). And you’d be right. They don’t.
The stress of dealing with less common pathologies like this one typically ends abruptly when the pet gets euthanized. But these guys want to see her get well—at all costs. And I have to say: It was touching to see this young guy fish around in his wallet for a deposit after I told him to leave what he could and we’d work it out.
At this point I’m not at all convinced that either of us can hold up our end of the bargain. It looks like the probability of receiving payment is equal to that of saving this puppy. And I need better odds than that.