Flulike bacteria sickens people and pets alike
Leptospirosis risks grow after heavy rain; disease easily spreads
Linda Pittman and her eight-year-old Fell terrier Molly was diagnosed with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause flulike symptoms and affects the liver and kidneys. Ms. Pittman’s other two dogs have not tested positive for the illness.
The disease, commonly known as lepto, is more prevalent this year because of the rain. Even dogs that have been vaccinated against it — such as Molly — can contract it because the vaccination does not protect against all its many strains. And humans can get it too.
Ms. Pitman of Ypsilanti, Mich., had her two other dogs checked for the disease because it is contagious via urine. Fortunately, the two dogs, including Gracie, who was adopted from 4 Paws Sake, a Toledo-area rescue group, both have tested negative thus far.
“I was told that wildlife urine exposure is a prime way to acquire lepto, and we have squirrels and racoons and possums and mice and all kinds of critters in this area, passing through our yards and peeing wherever they want,” Ms. Pittman said.
Molly, an 8-year-old Fell terrier, was seen first by her regular vet, Dr. Vicki Marsh, at Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital in Ann Arbor. Dr. Marsh referred Ms. Pittman to the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Science, which has an out-patient clinic. The internist who saw Molly at MSU was Dr. Christina Chan.
“The MSU vet also said the wet conditions this year has exacerbated the problem because lepto bacteria thrives in wet conditions,” Ms. Pittman said. “She said there has been an increase in lepto cases in the area where we live. For a while there, our yard was rarely dry.”
Molly exhibited a symptom that concerned Ms. Pittman and her veterinarian: elevated liver enzymes.
“Dr. Marsh felt we should see an internist at MSU to see if there was a liver condition presenting itself,” Ms. Pittman said. “So I took Molly to MSU, where all kinds of blood tests were done, an abdominal ultrasound, a urine specimen was collected, and they did a needle draw of cells from her liver. All tests came back normal except the lepto titre.”
Molly is on Doxycycline antibiotics for two weeks and then another lepto titre will be done to see if it has normalized. She is doing fine and is taking her meds in a pill pocket treat twice a day.
Ms. Pittman is keeping a close eye on her other two dogs to make sure they don’t contract the illness. They include Mikey, a 7-year-old schnauzer and terrier mix who was rescued from a high-kill shelter in Ohio by a Michigan rescue group.
Her Toledo dog, Gracie, will be 4 years old in August. She is a mix of poodle, Yorkshire terrier, and possibly fox terrier. She was fostered for 14 months by Tammy Davis of Point Place, who also volunteers at the Lucas County Dog Warden.
“I am thrilled that Mikey and Gracie have not contracted lepto, especially since they are exposed to the same yard as Molly, as well as Molly’s urine before she was on antibiotics,” Ms. Pittman said. “The MSU vet told me once Molly was on antibiotics for a couple of days, her urine would not be infected anymore,”
Lepto vaccines are often neglected by dog owners because of a higher incidence of allergic reactions to the vaccine, Ms. Pittman said.
“I had a Siberian husky years ago whose entire face swelled up from a lepto vaccine, and she could not have them after that,” she said. “The amazing thing is that she never did get lepto, and we were in this same area for most of her life. So I guess if your dog can tolerate the vaccine, do it, but there is not an absolute guarantee that it will work.”
Lepto is very endemic in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, said Dr. Gary Thompson, a veterinarian at West Suburban Animal Hospital in Sylvania Township.
“There are over 100 strains of lepto, and we vaccinate for the four most common in the states,” Dr. Thompson said.
To help prevent the spread of the disease to pets, keep them away from standing water and areas frequented by wildlife.
“The vaccine provides good protection but like any vaccine, especially one against a bacteria, the immunity is not long lasting so annual vaccination is recommended,” Dr. Thompson said. “There is also misinformation about reactions to the vaccine. One study showed it was more the breed, the number of items vaccinated against, and vaccine manufacturer, rather than just the lepto component.”
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