Leptospirosis is a bacterial zoonotic disease that can affect the blood, liver, and kidneys of the infected animal. It is caused by bacteria that are spiral shaped and can be serious for both humans and animals.
Although it is a common disease among animals, leptospirosis is a relatively rare bacterial infection in humans. Human infection is commonly transmitted by allowing fresh water that has been contaminated by animal urine to come in contact with unhealed breaks in the skin, eyes or with the mucous membranes. Humans can also be infected by food or soil containing the urine of infected animals.
If a dog licks the urine of an infected animal off the grass or soil, or drinks from an infected puddle, the disease can be transmitted. It is only contagious as long as the urine is still moist.
Indirect transmission occurs through contact of susceptible animals to contaminated water, food and bedding. Inactive or slow moving water can also be one of the reasons for its transmission.
Habitats most likely to carry infective bacteria are muddy riverbanks, ditches, gulleys, and muddy livestock rearing areas where there is regular passage of either wild or farm mammals. There is a direct correlation between the amount of rainfall and the incidence of leptospirosis, making it seasonal in temperate climates and year-round in tropical climates.
Symptoms of Leptospirosis
In animals, the incubation period (time of exposure to first symptoms) is anywhere from 2-20 days. The symptoms include reduced urine output, unusually dark or brown urine, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and stiffness, severe muscle pain, lethargy, or inability to have puppies.
Dogs with fulminating infections soon become hypothermic and may die before signs of kidney and liver failure develop. Generally younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals.
In humans the symptoms often begin with flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, myalgias, intense headache). The first phase ends with the patient symptom-free, then the second phase begins. This is characterized by meningitis, liver damage (causing jaundice), and renal failure. The symptoms in humans appear after a 4-14 day incubation period.
Leptospirosis is treatable with pencillin (antibiotics). If an animal is treated early, it may recover more quickly and any organ damage may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis, hydration therapy and vaccines, may also be required.
How to prevent Leptospirosis
- Avoid contact with urine, blood, or tissues from your infected pet before it has received proper treatment.
- If it’s necessary to have contact with animal tissues or urine, wear protective clothing and wash your hands properly with soap or detol.
- Avoid ingestion of water if engaging in water sports (i.e., swimming, wading or rafting) and avoid swimming or wading in potentially contaminated waters if possible.
- Keep rodent problems (rats, mice, or other animal pests) under control. Rodents can carry and spread the bacteria.
- Get your pet vaccinated twice in a year.
- Keep your surroundings clean and do not let water stagnate.
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