A Little On Lepto

Leptosporosis, it’s in the news.  A deadly reemerging bacterial threat of pandemic proportions. 

Ok, it’s not quite that bad, but we’ve (we vets, not so much the general population) been hearing a lot about it lately.  Apparently one of the news stations ran a story on it last week, so we’ve been getting questions from you people as well.  Rumor has it (per Dr. Ken Cantrell, Dallas Vet’s Website) that there is a Lepto outbreak in the Turtle Creek area of Dallas (that’s where the rich folk live, so when their pets get sick, it makes the news…).  A vet associate in Allen told me he’s seen 6 or 8 cases in the last year.  We’ve seen a couple. 

Here’s the scoop (and I’m pulling this info out of my head so I can get a blog article published, if I do the exhaustive research to get cold,hard facts, you may not hear from me for months…we’re still super busy here with dentals and sick pets and such, and at home I can’t pry the computers away from my kids, so that’s hopeless….plus I’m in the middle of reading the “Twilight” series of vampire books, so any extra free time goes to that…I’m in the middle of book 3, by the way and riveted…I can’t believe Bella is making Edward sit out the vampire fight…she’s just being a little selfish!!).

Anyhow, Letpo is a bacterial infection that is carried by such wild critters as : possums, skunks, raccoons, rats, squirrels, (and OK, I got the book out….some less common creatures like: bandicoots (somebody needs to name their pet Bandicoot…that would be awesome!), weasels,  sea lions, woodchucks)  lots of other species carry the bacterium (domestic rabbits can carry one strain, we’re really curious about the cottontails out there…nobody has tested them yet…a vet friend is offering to trap/test the bunnies if one of the researcher types will run the numbers).

OK, so all or many of these carrier creatures inhabit the areas that we and our dogs frequent (lepto does not affect cats).  And, everybody pees, so these animals with the little lepto bacteria in their urine are going around spreading disease and pestilence.  Granted, the bacteria doesn’t live long in the environment, and it tends to accumulate in wet areas, so our dry summers may help control the spread to some degree.

This is why, initially we recommended the lepto vaccine (yup, there’s a vaccine, but I’ll get to that) to dogs who hunted or went to the lake, swamps, etc. because we decided that those were the ones most “at risk” for exposure to the disease.  Problem is, that lately, all the lepto cases I’ve seen in my career are just plain ol’ backyard dogs (and not dogs that live in the back yard, just the ones that go out there to chase squirrels, use the potty, etc.).   So, now it’s hard to figure out exactly who an “at risk” dog is. 

The bacteria generally causes the dogs to get pretty darn sick.  It’s not truly fatal, but it’s really expensive to treat, so it could be indirectly fatal via euthanasia for patients who’s folks just can’t financially handle the treatment.  The organism attacks the liver and kidneys, usually causing failure of one or both organs.  Generally dogs have to be hospitalized 24 hours a day on aggressive IV fluids and antibiotics.  Most of these guys are int the hospital for a week at around $200-300/day or more. 

Like I said before, there is a vaccine for lepto.  We got away from using it years ago because 1. we rarely, if ever saw the disease  2. the vaccine only covered 3 serovars of the bacteria, and 3. dogs had a LOT of reactions to the vaccine. 

Today:  1. We are seeing lepto cases.  2.  The new vaccine covers 4 of the most common serovars that affect dogs (there are 100s of serovars, so it isn’t a sure thing) 3. We’ve been using the new vaccine for about 2 years now and the reactions are extremely rare.  Much, much less common and severe than the old vaccine. 

So, if your dog goes out in the backyard, and you live where squirrels, rats, possums, skunks, maybe rabbits, and maybe frogs (one client informed me that he found a reference online to a frog carrying lepto, I couldn’t substantiate this) pee, then you probably ought to vaccinate for it.  I just vaccinated mine today (my dog is an adept rat killer, and squirrel chaser, I’ve had to personally doctor an injured possum in my back yard once, so wildlife is sort of an issue). 

If your dog hasn’t had the vaccine before, he will need a booster in a month, then revaccination annually (since lepto is a bacteria, the duration of immunity of the vaccine isn’t as good as with a viral vaccine, nature of the beast at this point in time). 

The Dallas County Vet Med Association meeting next month is on Lepto, so if I find out anything good, I’ll let you know.


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