“Lepto” Cases Increase

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 28, 2019
With an increase in rain over the winter months, dogs are at an increased risk of transmitting Leptospirosis, an often-fatal bacterial disease which is transmitted in part through stagnant water. There has been an increase in the disease in Santa Barbara and Montecito this year.

Local pet owners and veterinarians are reporting an increase in a deadly bacterial infection called Leptospirosis. Known as “lepto,” the bacteria that causes the disease is spread through the urine of infected animals, mostly rodents and wild animals such as raccoons and opossums; the bacteria can contaminate water that is then bathed in or drank by local dogs. 

Local emergency veterinarian Dr. Addie Jennings tells us the increase in incidences of this disease is likely due to a greater amount of rainfall than normal; she estimates there have been about five cases of lepto in the last few months at AVS (Advanced Veterinary Specialists) alone. In addition to drinking the bacteria, it can also enter the body through skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Infected wild and domestic animals may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment continuously or every once in a while for a few months up to several years. 

Dr. Jennings says the incubation period from when the dog is exposed to when it shows symptoms is four to 12 days. Early symptoms include lethargy, fever, vomiting, and decreased appetite. If caught early, the disease is treatable with antibiotics. Once it reaches a more advanced stage, it begins to cause kidney damage which is often fatal. It can be treated with dialysis, which is an expensive procedure, Dr. Jennings said. 

A vaccine for lepto only protects against two strains for the bacteria, but Dr. Jennings says she recommends that pet owners have their dogs vaccinated. To lessen the chance of exposure, she suggests keeping dogs away from stagnate water, and being cautious on walks and hikes. 

For more info about lepto, which can also be transmitted to humans, visit www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html


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