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Posted on 01-15-2014

The Dangers of Lepto

Dangerous things are sometimes boring to write or read about. 

My colleague, Dr. Ontiveros, brow-beat me into focusing on LEPTOSPIROSIS when my turn came around to write a blog entry.  You can blame her; I blame her for lots of other things too.

Leptospira is the parent name for a group of bacteria that those of you still reading have probably never heard about.  The disease in humans is also called swineherd’s disease, rice field disease, or water-fever.  Microbiologists find it interesting because it has a spiral shape with hooked ends.  Pathologists find it interesting because it causes multiple organ damage to people and different types of animals.  As a veterinarian and pet owner, I find it incredibly worrisome.

Lepto is very contagious and easy to contract:

• is shed in body fluids (those infected are biohazards!)

• bacteria can penetrate intact skin

• can cross mucus membranes

• survives in standing water

• survives well in soil   

Lepto is a worldwide threat to people and animals:

• people (including pet owners and veterinary staff)   

• wildlife (including raccoons, rodents)

• livestock (including cattle, pigs)        

• dogs (apparently not cats!)               

 Lepto can be difficult to diagnose:

• specific lepto tests can be inconclusive when positive or negative

• symptoms can mimic any disorder causing kidney/liver disease

• subclinical and chronic carrier states can go undetected                    

Lepto cases are increasing in Texas including reported cases in Austin:

• we have a warm and wet enough climate to promote survival of this bacteria

• we have a dense population of susceptible and carrier animals


Now for some good news, sort of.

Dogs and livestock can be protected with vaccines.  There are a few flaws with the current state of Lepto vaccines, however:

• not every vaccinated animal is vaccinated frequently enough (twice yearly)

• not every version (called a serovar) of Lepto is included in the vaccine       

• not every “at risk” animal tolerates the vaccine

• not every veterinarian offers the vaccine

As the incidence of this disease increases, Lepto will become a more familiar word.  In the meantime, talk with your veterinarian about the risk/benefit of vaccine protection.


Dr. Troy Smith
Manchaca Village Veterinary Care    

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