Leptospirosis Cases Occur in New York and Phoenix: What You Need to Know

PetMD Editorial
February 24, 2017
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Pet parents in both New York City and Phoenix are on high alert due to the confirmed cases of Leptospirosis in both major metropolitan areas. 

Leptospirosis, which is a rare bacterial disease, can affect both dogs and humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans infected with Leptospirosis can experience symptoms such as high fever, headache, chills, muscle ache, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, red eyes, rash, and diarrhea over the course of a few days to over three weeks. In a statement, New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett explained that the bacterial infection is spread through contact with rat urine, and is rarely spread from person to person. "The Health Department, in partnership with its sister agencies the Housing Preservation and Development and the Buildings Departments, has taken immediate measures to ensure the health and safety of residents by reducing the rat population in the area and is educating tenants about precautions, signs, and treatment," she said. 

There are no reports of pets being infected in New York City, but the problem has impacted animals in Phoenix. 

Back in November, a kennel in Phoenix saw multiple cases of Leptospirosis in dogs, and the numbers have continued to grow. Approximately 50 cases have been documented since the initial outbreak. Because of this, the Arizona Department of Agriculture has released a statement which urges pet parents to get their dogs vaccinated, saying: "With the continued increase in the number of dogs diagnosed with Leptospirosis, the State Veterinarian, Dr. Peter Mundschenk, recommends dog owners consider vaccinating their pets. Dr. Mundschenk strongly recommends that dog boarding and day care facilities consider requiring proof of a Leptospirosis vaccination prior to boarding." 

The Arizona State Veterinarian's office alerted pet parents of the warning signs of Leptospirosis in dogs, which include drinking and urinating more than usual, red eyes, a lock of urination, reluctance to eat, depression and a high fever. Other symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and tremors. The Animal Care Hospital of Phoenix noted that "many dogs can spread this disease without showing any symptoms," which is why vaccinating against the infection is essential. 

"Dogs infected with leptospirosis will go into acute liver and/or kidney failure which can be fatal," Dr. Chris Gaylord, a Brooklyn-based veterinarian, explained to petMD. "They tend to get very sick quickly so sometimes significant organ damage occurs before they can be diagnosed and treated. It can be difficult to diagnose Leptospirosis, however, because there are a host of other reasons why a dog could show these signs and veterinarians do not routinely screen for it as it is fairly rare." 

Dogs that are most at risk for contracting the infection include outdoor dogs (i.e. hunting dogs), dogs who are exposed to areas of standing water (like puddles and natural water sources), dogs who travel frequently, and/or dogs who have exposure to other dogs in high density areas such as pet boarding facilities and dog parks. 

While the CDC conducts their investigation in the Phoenix region, the Animal Care Hospital reports that the disease may have started via citrus rats. 

Gaylor recommends that all dogs living in urban areas receive the vaccination against Leptospirosis. "There are a number of different forms (serovars) of Leptospirosis bacteria and the most effective vaccine provides immunity for the four most common serovars that dogs are likely to encounter," he says. "If you are checking your dog's vaccination records, you may see the Leptospirosis vaccine listed separately or you may see a  'DHPPL' vaccine, the 'L' indicating that it was given as part of a combined vaccine. The duration of immunity for a Leptospirosis vaccine is no more than one year so it important to stay up to date." 

The disease can be spread from animals to humans, and enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth, or open cuts in the skin. Health officials in both Phoenix and New York are encouraging its residents to avoid areas with possibly infected animal urine, and to wash hands and clothes immediately after being in contact with an animal. 

Find out more information on how Leptospirosis can affect your dog.

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