Important update! Recent cases of leptospirosis as of June 18th, 2021.
There has been a recent resurgence of leptospirosis cases in Sydney this year. In the last four weeks, there have already been four new cases of leptospirosis (one in Erskineville, one in Northern Beaches, one in Waterloo, and one in Wollongong). Unfortunately in three of these cases – the dogs were euthanised due to advanced kidney failure. The case in Erskineville is still currently being treated.
This brings the case total this year to eight, with isolated cases detected in – the Lower & Upper Northshore, Mid North Coast, Greater Western Sydney & Wollongong.
Although historically a majority of the cases have resided in the Inner City / Inner West areas of Sydney, the few isolated cases being detected calls for us to exercise extreme caution moving forward.
Unfortunately, in almost all cases of leptospirosis, the disease progression is so acutely deadly that the outcome is euthanasia. In some cases, the disease progresses so quickly that the causative serovar cannot even be identified.
What does this mean for my puppy?
With these recent cases, MyVet strongly recommends additional safety measures to reduce the risk of transmission to your furbabies. These includes:
- Ensuring your dog is completely up to date with leptospirosis vaccinations – if you are unsure, it will be safer to repeat the course. The vaccines covers for the serovar ‘Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhagen’ which has been responsible for most of the cases able to be identified. Unfortunately there has been one case of a different strain ‘Leptospira serovar Australis’, which does not have a commercial vaccine available.
- Avoiding ALL inland water (dam, fountains, ponds, etc.) within a 5km radius of Sydney CBD.
- As a general rule, avoiding any stagnant water regardless of the area would be advised.
- Avoid any areas which have any evidence of rodent activity.
- Keep your furbabies on leashes when walking, especially at night, to avoid any accidental interaction with contaminated rodent material near bushes, etc.
- Avoid walking your dog after heavy rain, as the rain can act to resurface the bacteria.
What do I do if I suspect leptospirosis?
The clinical signs of leptospirosis start off very vague (vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea), but can quickly progress to very severe signs such as liver & kidney failure, within a matter of days.
Therefore we would strongly recommend bringing in your dog as soon as any of these signs develop, to ensure treatment can commence as soon as possible.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Leptospira. There are many different types, known as serogroups, and many different variants, which are referred to as serovars. This is important to know, because different serovars can affect different species in different ways. It is also important because Leptospirosis vaccinations are specific against certain serovars.
It is considered uncommon in Australia. However, there have been signs of re-emergence. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to people. For this reason, it is notifiable across Australia.
What are the clinical signs of leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can cause clinical signs of varying severity, including seizures, jaundice, clotting disorders, and collapse. Infected dogs may also have vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle weakness, fever, and abdominal pain. In young puppies, infection can result in sudden death.
Protect the puppies!
The severity of disease is dependent on a number of factors, including: serovar and the species, age, and health of the affected animal. Consequently, infection does not always result in clinical signs. Regardless, all infected animals, including those who appear healthy, can shed organisms in their bodily fluids, affecting other dogs and humans.
If your veterinarian is suspicious of Leptospirosis, the first step is a full blood test to ensure that your dog’s kidneys and liver are functioning well. The next step, which is to make a definitive diagnosis, requires a blood test and urine test to be sent to the lab for further testing.
How does my dog get it?
Dogs can become infected when they are exposed to infected fluids. This can mean direct exposure to rat urine or the ingestion of rat tissues or it can mean indirect exposure of mucous membranes (mouth and eyes) to contaminated water. Once they are infected, the leptospires make their way to the kidneys and are shed via urine.
The most common serovar which causes clinical disease in dogs is carried by rats. Other serovars can cause disease as well, but these are more commonly carried by farm animals and are not typically expected in urban areas.
How is it treated and how can it be prevented?
Treatment of Leptospirosis involves antimicrobial therapy and supportive care. Treatment must be started as early as possible to prevent irreversible damage to the kidneys and liver.
Fatal infection can be prevented with vaccination. The vaccination used in Australia protects against Leptospira interrogans sv Copenhageni, which is the most common disease-causing serovar in Australian dogs. The vaccination protocol requires one vaccination with a booster four weeks later. To remain protected, your dog needs to be vaccinated annually from then onward.
As the vaccination only covers one serovar, it is still very important to keep your dog away from potentially contaminated areas. This means avoiding stagnant bodies of water and rat-infested areas. It also means avoiding raw meat, which may carry leptospires from farm animals.
If you’re worried, please contact your local veterinarian to discuss your options! Stay safe, furbabies!