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East County News Service

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December 17, 2020 (San Diego) -- An outbreak of leptospirosis, a contagious bacterial disease, has been reported in dogs in our region, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) announced today.


Since October, 34 confirmed and probable cases of leptospirosis have been documented among local dogs, primarily in the Hillcrest and Mission Hills areas. Several dogs required hospitalization and at least one was euthanized.


A vaccine is available to prevent leptospirosis in dogs, especially for those boarding in kennels and frequenting dog parks. The County is recommending the vaccine for dogs, particularly those that spend time in nature outdoors, at dog parks, or in boarding facilities.


According to the Cuyamaca Veterinary Hospital, “The vaccine for Lepto is very effective (this is a newer vaccine). It consists of 2 boosters 3-4 weeks apart then yearly moving forward.”


Boarding at kennels that allow dog-to-dog interaction is a major risk factor, though some ill dogs only had contact with other dogs at dog parks. The kennels that were linked to cases notified the owners of all potential contacts of diagnosed cases and closed for at least two weeks for cleaning and disinfection. The disease can also be spread by rodents or other wildlife.


Signs of leptospirosis in dogs are varied and can include fever, muscle weakness, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, low energy, and frequent urination, which may be bloody.  Severe cases left untreated can cause liver or kidney failure, or even death.


No human cases have been linked to this outbreak in dogs, but anyone who develops fever, headache, muscle aches (especially in the back and calves), or other illness after contact with a sick dog should see their health care provider right away.  Other symptoms  may include headache, conjunctival suffusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cough, and a skin rash. 


The disease in humans and dogs is treatable with antibiotics. 


This week, HHSA sent a health advisory to local physicians and veterinarians about the outbreak.


Leptospirosis is a disease caused by various species of spirochete bacteria called Leptospira. These bacteria can infect multiple species of mammals, including humans, dogs, rats, mice, raccoons, skunks, and opossums.  The bacteria are shed in the urine of infected animals and may contaminate food, water, soil or bedding. Dogs and people can get infected through direct contact with skin abrasions, mucous membranes, or drinking contaminated water.


“When dogs visit kennels and parks and play, lick, and sniff each other, they are at risk of getting these bacteria,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “If your dog shows any signs, you should take it to your vet immediately.”


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