Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacteria called leptospira spp. Since leptospirosis can be transmitted between animals and humans, it is labeled as a “zoonotic disease” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A leptospirosis infection can cause animals and humans severe health issues including symptoms that can lead to death in some cases. The bright side is that leptospirosis is preventable! Let’s take a moment to clear up some of the myths surrounding leptospirosis.
Myth: Leptospirosis is not common.
Leptospirosis is more common than most think. The issue comes from the flu-like symptoms the disease can cause which leads to misdiagnosis in many individuals. Mild symptoms in most mammals may include fever, chills, aches and pains, nausea, and/or diarrhea. Many people may not go to a doctor for these mild symptoms, let alone the doctor ordering the specific antibody testing that an accurate leptospirosis diagnosis requires. More severe cases can lead to liver and kidney issues or meningitis (brain inflammation) that can lead to death if left untreated.
Myth: Leptospirosis is not a threat.
Leptospirosis is transmitted from direct contact with the urine of an infected animal. This means that the bacteria can enter the system through skin, mucous membranes (eye, nose, mouth), and/or ingestion. Not that people are out there touching urine of infected animals consciously. The most common sources for infection are soil and water sources. Meaning urination from wild animals enters water sources. If you live in an area like me, you may be surrounded by rivers, lakes, and ponds. All of which can carry leptospirosis.
Flood waters can also be serious reservoirs for leptospirosis infection. Even if you are not around water sources, gardening or otherwise touching infected soil without gloves can transfer the infection to a child or adult. It is also important to note that some infected mammals may not show any symptoms, but still shed the bacteria in their urine. Therefore, your dog could be infected, and you may not even know it.
Myth: The vaccination is unsafe.
The leptospirosis vaccination for dogs has gotten a bad reputation. It has been labeled as unsafe due to adverse vaccines reactions. However, studies have shown that the vaccination is not any more at risk of a reaction than any other vaccination your pet may receive. It is recommended that if your pet has had an adverse reaction in the past that it still not receive the vaccination.
Like many vaccinations, there are many strains of the leptospira bacteria, and therefore not all strains may be covered by the vaccination. It is also important to booster the Leptospirosis vaccination yearly as more strains are discovered. At least with vaccination, you, your family, and your fur family have one more defense against this preventable disease.
Remember to practice good hygiene! Wash your hands after every animal you handle and when coming in from working/playing outside.
Ju Yao, P., Stephenson, N., Foley, J. E., Toussieng, C. R., Farver, T. B., Sykes, J. E., & Fleer, K. A. (2015). Incidence rates and risk factors for owner-reported adverse events following vaccination of dogs that did or did not receive a Leptospira vaccine. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1139-1145.
Leptospirosis. (2019, March 13). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html
Author - Katie Sinclair
Katie Sinclair, RVT, is the head instructor for the APC’s veterinary assistant program. She has been a part of the veterinary industry for 9 years, 7 of which as a Registered Veterinary Technician in the St. Louis area. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Equine Science from Otterbein College (Westerville, OH) and earned her Associate’s in Veterinary Technology from Sanford-Brown College (Fenton, MO). Read her full bio.