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Fort Carson Mountaineer

Leptospirosis can wreak havoc on pets, humans

By Capt. Mayleena Holm | First Year Graduate Veterinary Program-Public Health Activity-Fort Carson

What are the facts about leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis, commonly referred to as lepto, is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium that leads to renal and hepatic injury and infection in animals and people. Not all animals with lepto show signs of infection but may still pass the infection to other animals or people.

Common symptoms of the disease are vomiting, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, skin rash and jaundice.

Lepto affects dogs, rodents, livestock and wildlife, as well as people, however, cats rarely develop lepto infections. There are many species of lepto bacteria with over 250 different varieties, called serovars.

If a pet contracts lepto, will humans pass it to others like the flu?

Lepto is zoonotic and can be passed from animals to people from bodily fluids. However, people do not spread it to other people via aerosol transmission like the flu.

Lepto also lives in soil and water. Small amounts of water accidentally swallowed are sufficient to cause infection along with foods contaminated by infected soil.

Humans and animals can easily be infected by swimming or participating in water sports in contaminated lakes or other bodies of water.

When and where is the risk of lepto highest?

Lepto is found worldwide but is more common in warm, moist climates. After a heavy rainfall or natural disaster causing flooding, the risk of a lepto outbreak increases significantly. A recent study showed cases of lepto in dogs in North America have been increasing over the last 20 years.

How can lepto be prevented?

Vaccination is a highly effective way to protect dogs and many livestock species from developing a life threatening lepto infection. Modern lepto vaccines are safe with rare side effects of adverse allergic reactions documented.

There are different vaccines available for dogs, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The most common canine lepto vaccine, nobivac/versican plus L4, is a veterinary vaccine that contains inactivated (killed) strains of leptospira bacteria (icterohaemorrhagiae, canicola, bratislava and grippotyphosa). This vaccine has largely replaced the previous L2 vaccine that only contains two strains of inactivated lepto.

No vaccine is 100% protective against all the different species and varieties of lepto, however, vaccination can protect against several types and greatly reduce the potential severity of infection. Speak with a local veterinarian about the benefits and potential risks of vaccinating dogs and livestock.

Is there a treatment for lepto?

Yes, lepto is treated with a course of doxycycline antibiotics. If prescribed by a doctor as a treatment, it should be completely finished even if symptoms improve. The best chance of recovery is with early detection and complete treatment.

People who are concerned about being infected with lepto should contact their primary care physician. Appointments may be made by calling the TRICARE appointment line at 800-TRICARE.

For unvaccinated pets, owners should contact their local veterinarian.

Visit for the closest veterinary treatment facility.

Leptospirosis can wreak havoc on pets, humans
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