Have you seen the social media post or newspaper article doing the rounds about Leptospirosis? We wanted to provide some information and update on the current situation.
Leptospirosis is an uncommon bacterial disease. It is usually encountered in dairy farms and rural areas where there is close proximity to water or rodents, and thus is not traditionally diagnosed in an inner city setting. In Australia, it has usually only been diagnosed in Northern Queensland. There has been a recent outbreak of 5 cases in a small pocket of inner-city Sydney (Darlinghurst/Surry Hills) and two cases near Ringwood in Melbourne.
Leptospirosis can be carried by mammals longer term without any outward signs of infection. Infectious bacteria are shed in the urine. All mammals (including people) are susceptible to the disease. Bacteria gain entry to the body through direct contact of the gums or eyes with infected urine or contaminated soil or water. Carrier animals in a suburban setting are usually rodents or other small mammals.
If infection is going to occur, it is most common in a dog. This is because dogs are most frequently in a situation where exposure can occur, and dogs are most susceptible. Infection tends to be seasonal, most common in the warmer months. As infected water is often a source of infection, recent flooding or rainfall also promotes infection. Dogs at higher risk of exposure include those that have proximity to outdoor water sources, like to swim and have proximity to areas with a higher concentration of wildlife. In a suburban setting, cats and humans are unlikely to fulfil the criteria needed for exposure. They are also less likely to contract the disease.
Unfortunately, if an animal becomes suddenly unwell, they can become very unwell. The canine patients near Ringwood did sadly pass away. The bacterium is carried in the blood and can affect any organ or body system. Most commonly infection causes kidney and liver failure. Signs that you may notice at home are many and varied, but most commonly start with poor appetite, general malaise, vomiting or diarrhoea. Increased thirst and urination may also be noted. Sudden infection is most common in dogs. It can occur in humans. Cats tend to be more likely to have a longer-term infection which goes without any clinical signs.
If you are concerned that your pet may have contracted leptospirosis, please contact your local clinic immediately for further direction. Your veterinarian may recommend blood and urine testing initially if concerned, but expedient clinical examination is recommended. As this bacterium does have the potential to infect humans, make sure that good hygiene is always practiced.
Treatment involves intravenous antibiotics followed by oral antibiotics. During this period intensive supportive care is usually required. Diagnosis requires demonstration of the bacterium in the blood, urine or both. Unfortunately, diagnosis can be a little difficult and if very suspicious your veterinarian may try treatment even if all testing comes back negative (or whilst waiting for tests to return).
There are many different strains of Leptospira bacteria. Many of these strains can cause infection, but the severity may vary.
At this stage, there is no human vaccination and no feline vaccination. There is a canine vaccination. The vaccination protects against the most commonly encountered Australian strain, Leptospira interrogans serovar copenhageni. This does mean that if another strain is encountered, your pet may not necessarily be covered. That being said, it is thought that the current vaccination does potentially provide some coverage for strains other than copenhageni, even if this has not been demonstrated in a laboratory setting.
We believe that currently the risk of exposure or infection of dogs in Melbourne is still very low and the aim of this information sheet is not to create anxiety for you as a pet owner.
We are monitoring the situation and do not feel it is necessary to change our standard vaccine recommendations at this stage, however if you feel that your dog may be at risk of exposure, vaccination is safe and effective and would be recommended. Vaccination requires two vaccines two to four weeks apart, followed by a yearly booster.
The vaccination used for leptospirosis is combined with canine coronavirus and is given in addition to the standard vaccination, which covers for Distemper, Hepatitis virus, Parvo virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza.
Should you need further information, please contact your local clinic and your veterinary team will be happy to discuss further or make an appointment to discuss the need for vaccination for your individual pet. As always, thank you for letting us be part of your lives – we consider it a great privilege.