ST. GEORGE — As of Tuesday, there were 13 confirmed cases in the St. George area of dogs infected with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause severe illness, including kidney and liver failure, in dogs and humans alike.
About half of the animals infected required hospitalization at this point, and all dogs are responding well to treatment, Dr. Scott Hannig, veterinarian with Red Hills Animal Hospital, said in a statement issued this week.
The outbreak was likely brought to the Southern Utah region by an infected dog that stayed at Red Rock Pet Resort a few weeks ago, Hannig said. While the particular dog has yet to be identified, it is likely an animal that came from the Phoenix, Arizona, area where a recent outbreak was reported.
With this particular outbreak, the most common symptoms veterinarians are seeing include lethargy, lack of appetite, soreness in the muscles or joints, fever and intestinal problems, such as vomiting and/or diarrhea.
In some cases, it can be difficult to identify an animal that has been infected with the disease, and some dogs can spread the illness for a month before showing any signs of infection. The veterinary hospital is working with Red Rock Pet Resort to address any issues with the animals potentially infected and showing symptoms of the disease.
As leptospirosis can spread to humans, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is monitoring the situation, spokesperson David Heaton said, but there have been no reported human cases at this point. He added the spread to humans is very rare, as there are only about 100-150 cases reported each year in the U.S.
Even so, he said the bacteria is certainly cause for concern, adding that without treatment, it can cause severe kidney or liver damage, which in some cases can result in death.
The disease originates from the urine of rats that can infect water sources. Once a dog or animal encounters the contaminated water, they can become infected with the leptospira bacteria, which is capable of surviving for long periods in warm, stagnant water or moist soil.
With the recent outbreak in Southern Utah, it is recommended that all dogs be vaccinated against the disease. The vaccine is proven to protect dogs against most forms of leptospirosis and is now available at some veterinary clinics, including Red Hills Animal Hospital.
“It is going to take a coordinated effort from all those involved in animal care to prevent it from spreading and causing future outbreaks,” Hannig said.
To that end, Red Hills Animal Hospital has arranged for an infectious disease specialist to speak on the disease at an event that will be held Sept. 18 that is open to all veterinarians, as well as owners or managers of animal boarding facilities.
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