SPECIAL REPORT: Dangerous bacterial disease causes major concern - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

SPECIAL REPORT: Dangerous bacterial disease causes major concern with pet owners

(WWBT) -

A dangerous bacterial disease has pet owners everywhere worried about the safety of their animals. Potentially deadly to both humans and canines, Leptospirosis is found across the country, and vets are diagnosing it more than ever. 

Vets used to treat Lepto as a lifestyle disease that only affected rural or hunting dogs. Now, it's found all 50 states, and animal experts are testing for it more than ever.

In a rare but lethal case, a New York City resident died last month after contracting the bacteria, which is often spread through animals' urine. While a rodent infestation caused this most recent tragedy, Lepto also poses a danger to pets and their owners anytime they go outside.

"Lepto, in my opinion, is the most important infectious disease that we deal with in dogs in the United States," Dr. Richard Goldstein, a leptospirosis expert and Chief Medical Officer at the Animal Medical Center, told GoodHousekeeping.com. "It's a common disease in most of the United States, and it causes significant mortality."

The corkscrew-shaped bacteria can live in contaminated water for weeks at a time, and enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth or even a cut or scratch.

At River City Veterinary Hospital, in Richmond, Virginia, when dog owners come in for all of the state mandated vaccinations, Dr. Heather O'Sullivan always suggests at least one additional shot for Lepto.

"We definitely recommend it," said O’Sullivan. "We don't see it frequently in our area, but we have seen it. We've only been open just shy of three years, and we've had three confirmed cases."

Dogs can pass this disease on to their owners. Often, Lepto is hard to detect in humans, because some people have no symptoms at all - while others may experience fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting. The disease is also relatively easy to transmit.

"If your dog is infected, and say he urinates on the floor and you clean it up, and you have an open wound - a cut on your hand or you rub your eye when you've come in contact with the urine - you could be infected, easily," said Dr. O’Sullivan.

There was a time when Lepto cases were limited to hunting dogs, animal more likely to come in contact with vermin - or it's urine - in the woods. Over the past two years, the number of reported cases has been growing - not in rural settings, but in suburban neighborhoods. It could happen if your dog drinks from a puddle of contaminated water.

The Lepto vaccine must be taken yearly, and it’s relatively inexpensive – usually between twenty to forty dollars.

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