By Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service
March 29, 2005
Veterinarians warn that they are documenting the reemergence of the dangerous bacterium Leptospira, which can spread from dogs to humans and can cause kidney disease in both.
John Prescott, head of the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said pet vaccinations in the 1970s brought the disease under control, but a new strain apparently transmitted by raccoons is reappearing and spreading in urban areas.
"This had dropped off the radar screen until 1995, when we started seeing sporadic cases," Prescott said.
Although Leptospira strains infect a variety of wild animals, farm animals and pets, this strain, cropping up across North America, seems adapted particularly to dogs, which show symptoms including lethargy, vomiting, acute kidney failure and death.
Prescott said there are vaccines and urged dog owners to talk about the problem with their vets. He said pet owners should also not leave food or water bowls outside where they can be raided by infected raccoons.
"This strain is very much associated with raccoons. Leptospira was once a rural disease, but this strain has been found mainly in urban areas because raccoons are all around us," he said.
The bacterium lives in the kidneys of infected raccoons for their lives and spreads to dogs when raccoons urinate in water.
The vaccination campaign of the 1970s involved a Leptospira strain that is transmitted dog-to-dog.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the bacteria can be transferred to people through pets or from swimming in infected water, camping or other outdoor activities. It is not known to spread from person to person.
People become sick from two days to four weeks after exposure, and the illness usually begins with flu-like symptoms and fever. Leptospirosis can reemerge in a second and more severe stage, called Weil's disease, when a person may have kidney or liver failure or meningitis.
The CDC says the bacteria can be easily diagnosed with blood tests and treated with antibiotics. The bacteria is the most common pathogen transferred from animals to humans and has been a traditional occupational hazard for farmers, sewer workers and veterinarians. The CDC says disease trackers are noting increasing incidences among urban children.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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