Should people with pets, especially dogs, beware of being infected with leptospirosis? Doctors answer

Updated on Jul 24, 2022 06:04 PM IST

There has been a rise in the cases of Leptospirosis in Mumbai. Doctors reveal how to differentiate between the symptoms of Leptospirosis, Dengue and Covid-19? Should people with pets beware of being infected with leptospirosis? What are the various precautions to ensure safety from leptospirosis?

Should people with pets, especially dogs, beware of being infected with leptospirosis? Doctors answer (Yaroslav Shuraev)
Should people with pets, especially dogs, beware of being infected with leptospirosis? Doctors answer (Yaroslav Shuraev)
ByZarafshan Shiraz

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which is caused by the bacteria Leptospira and mainly spreads through the urine of infected animals including cattle, pigs, horses, rodents and other animals. The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucus membranes especially if the skin is broken from a scratch or cut.

In an an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Divya Gopal, Consultant Internal Medicine at Mumbai's Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, shared, “Outbreaks are common during monsoon due to exposure to contaminated water during floods. Individuals working in farms, mines, slaughterhouses and sewers are at a higher risk. It is also a recreational hazard for campers associated with swimming, kayaking, rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers.”

She added, “Patients present with fever, myalgia, vomiting, abdominal pain, conjunctival suffusion, kidney failure, jaundice and haemoptysis. Severe leptospirosis can present with acute neurological disease and altered sensorium, aseptic meningitis being the commonest manifestation. The other neurological presentations are seizures, myeloradiculopathy, myelopathy, Guillain-Barré syndrome-like presentation, meningoencephalitis, intracerebral bleed, cerebellar dysfunction, iridocyclitis and tremor/rigidity.”

Talking about the treatment, Dr Divya Gopal revealed, “It consists of intravenous antibiotics, crystalline penicillin being the drug of choice, which reduces the course of illness if given early. The main preventive measure for leptospirosis is to create awareness about the disease and its prevention. Rodent control measures should be undertaken. Chemoprophylaxis can be given to workers at risk.”

She advised, “The risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by not swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine and eliminating contact with potentially infected animals. Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated water or soil because of their job or recreational activities. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment is of utmost importance.”

Differentiating between the symptoms of Leptospirosis, Dengue and Covid-19, Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, Consulting Chest Physician, MD Chest and Tuberculosis at Mumbai's Masina Hospital, explained:

Symptoms and treatment of Dengue - Dengue is a viral infection which is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and the virus responsible to be causing it is known as Dengue Virus. The signs and symptoms of Dengue fever are high grade fever, headaches, pain in the joints and behind the eyes, muscles and bones, rashes on the body, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. If things start getting severe then you may get severe rashes on the skin, bleeding from the nose and gums and bruising easily. So it is very important to keep that in mind and if there are these symptoms then you should get a blood test immediately done which may show a decrease in the count of platelets and immediately your doctor should be consulted for the same.

Since it is a viral infection there is no specific medicine to treat dengue however a simple paracetamol can be used. Aspirin and other strong anti – inflammatory should be avoided because it can worsen bleeding. The best treatment if mild, is to rest, to drink plenty of fluids and hydration and seek medical treatment. If not treated on time, this can be critical, and liver may get affected, there may be bleeding in the body, there maybe bleeding difficulties because the lungs get affected and it can lead to, for which the terminology is, either haemorrhagic fever or Dengue shock syndrome. These are critical conditions where once patient enters this condition the treatment becomes difficult and the chances of survival are less and patient may have to be put on a ventilatory support. There is no age discrimination but early detections, proper rest, hydration and early medical treatment is the best wat to take care of this illness

Covid-19 symptoms - Covid-19 Symptoms basically as we know is a viral infection and the symptoms here are quite different from leptospirosis and dengue. Here, it is more of flu like illnesses where you get high grade fever which is persistent for a couple of days with running nose, headache, and if it gets worse then the oxygen level may start falling and you may face breathing difficulties and other symptoms will be there like body ache, stomach discomfort. Other organs are rarely affected but mainly the symptoms are flu like with severe body ache and fever and running nose and cough – mainly upper respiratory tract. And if there are complications then you may have pneumonia and breathing difficulty with reduced oxygenation in the blood. If not treated on time it can lead to severe complications especially in the vulnerable groups and may lead to lot of morbidity and mortality.

Symptoms, complications and prevention of leptospirosis - Leptospirosis is an infection which is caused by a bacterium known as leptospira and it can infect both humans and animals like dogs. The disease is mainly spread through the urine of an infected animal and in Humans it can happen due to the contact of the urine or contaminated soil or water infected by this bacterium. Mot of the times Leptospirosis causes mild flu like symptoms or no symptoms but it can also lead to serious complications such as meningitis, kidney failure or respiratory problems. Basically, there are two phases of Leptospirosis. First phase is like a mild flu like sickness which account for 90% of the cases in which a person may feel better and recover. In the second phase it is a form of jaundice and it is also known as whale’s disease and it s most severe and can lead to complications.

So, this type of leptospirosis can last for several weeks and it is less common. The common symptoms which are seen in leptospirosis fever, coughing, headache, muscle pain – especially back and calves, rashes on the body, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach discomfort and red eyes. And if there are complications we may also find jaundice, there may be kidney or liver failure, breathing difficulties and respiratory issues, myocarditis – affects the heart and meningitis, and normally it takes between 1 – 2 weeks before the patient starts showing symptoms but it can take up-to a month also. So, it is mainly spread through the contact with urine of infected animals, and if not treated on time, it can be fatal. For treatment, the best thing is simple remedies such as rest, hydration, symptomatic treatment and antibiotic strata effective like penicillin and doxycycline are helpful and should be taken under medical supervision. In case of severe illness, then hospital admission may be necessary and if there are complications then other critical treatment may be required.

Diagnosis is based on clinical history and by blood tests advised by your doctor and liver and kidney test to check for any complications. So, the best way to prevent leptospirosis is by trying to avoid swimming in fresh waters like rivers or streams which may contain animal urine Avoid touching or swimming in flood water or wading in flood water. Drinking water should be boiled before consuming it. Rodents and mice situation should be kept under control. Please where protective clothing or shoes when handling contaminated water and soil. And if anybody works with animals, protective clothing and shoes must be worn. This disease can also affect the animals like dogs, thus ensure that they do not have any symptoms. Avoid touching your pet’s urine. Try and keep the pet’s urine away from water bodies or places where people can come in contact with it and wash your hands after touching your pet. So, these were the symptoms, complications and prevention of leptospirosis.

For Pet Parents

Dr Sulaiman Ladhani said, “As we know leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, it can be transmitted to humans as well as animals and like humans, animals are also at an increasing risk especially our pets, specially dogs. So basically, they can either be infected and not yet show symptoms or they may have complications and have severe illness. Dogs typically contract leptospirosis through direct contact with urine of an infected animal, and open wounds or sores on the screen may increase the chances as it burrows through the skin to affect the dog. Once infected they might have mild or no illnesses or if the disease is severe they may have fever, sore muscles, reluctance to move with stiffness in muscles and legs and have a still gait, shivering and lack of appetite, increase thirst and urination and rapid dehydration, vomiting and diarrhoea and they may have dark gums and yellowness of skin may be present with swelling of the mucus membrane.”

He cautioned, “If suspected they should immediately be taken to a veterinarian who may diagnose a blood profile to the diagnosis and immediate treatment with fluids as per need for the dehydration caused may be given under supervision. Appropriate antibiotics will be prescribed by the veterinarian depending upon the stage of infection. So, home care is very important, take precautions and a person should try and protect himself/herself and their family from contracting leptospirosis.”

He advised, “Ideally when the dog is being treated they should be kept away from other pets and children and glove should be worn while handling the dog in anyway or handling the fluid and waste products from the dog. Areas where the dog has urinated or vomited should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly and where gloves and masks while handling them or during the process and ensure that it is disposed properly. Try talking to the veterinarian and see if the leptospirosis has affected the dog and recommended procedures should be followed for the same.”

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