Where There is Water, There is Leptospirosis


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One of the lesser known and hidden dangers of hurricanes and tropical storms is a water-borne bacterial infection, called leptospirosis which can be deadly to people, dogs and other animals.

It’s very likely people, dogs, and other animals will die as a result of leptospirosis in the Bahamas as a byproduct of flooding following Hurricane Dorian.

Indeed, deaths occurred as a result following hurricanes in U.S., such as Katrina in and around New Orleans and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. But hurricanes aren’t required for lepto to be transmitted. Even a puddle in an alley can harbor the bacteria.

Here’s what happens, infected wildlife, farm animals or unvaccinated dogs urinate in the floodwaters. Whether the infection enters through open wound or a person swallowing even a very small amount of the tainted water. Of course, unvaccinated dogs caught in the flood water are also susceptible.

All lepto requires is water, so it’s no surprise that the state with most leptospirosis is Hawaii. Still, the disease occurs in all 50 states.

Leptospirosis in the Big City

Since farm animals and wildlife carry lepto, it was historically thought to be solely a problem of rural or “wild” America. It turns out to be prevalent, and likely increasing, in big cities too!

The explanation appears to be urban wildlife, particularly city rats. Warming temperatures could also a play a role.

No matter, if an infected city rat piddles in puddle at and an unprotected dog walks through it and licks a paw or two soon after, an infection can easily occur. Dog might be more susceptible than people in the U.S., as dogs are more likely to drink pond, river or lake water or even water from that puddle.

According to the World Health Organization leptospirosis, while comparatively rare in the U.S., is one of the most significant zoonotic diseases on the planet. According to a 2015 study, annually, there are 1.03 million cases and 58,900 human deaths as a result of leptospirosis. Lepto is a far more significant issue where sewage is poor, when there is frequent flooding and/or people bathe with wildlife and/or livestock. Outbreaks in parts of Asia and Africa are not uncommon. And as hurricanes and typhoons increase in number and intensity, that number will likely rise.

You Can Get Sick for an Infected Dog

Zoonotic refers to disease that can be spread from animals to people. And don’t fool yourself, lepto does happen to humans in the U.S., even without extraordinary flooding brought on by tropical storms, hurricanes or other weather-related events.

Imagine an infected dog who has an accident indoors, and a toddler crawls through it. Or you wipe up after an infected dog has an accident, and not careful about washing thoroughly (which is all you need to do), the disease will be likely be passed on. Of course, if your dog is diagnosed with leptospirosis, your veterinarian will warn you to be careful. But dogs might not have any symptoms but still harbor the bug. So, there’s no way to know – except for that dogs who are vaccinated are unlikely to be infectious.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, while some people may be infected but still be asymptomatic, others can suffer kidney and/or liver damage, respiratory distress or even death. The same is pretty much true in dogs not protected by the vaccine. Some dogs are asymptomatic but may be carriers. Other dogs can get very ill, even die of lepto.

The point though is that due to canine lifestyles, dogs be dogs – dogs not protected by the vaccine are far more likely to be exposed and get sick as a result.

 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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