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Outbreak Of Deadly Bacterial Disease Affecting Dogs Reported In San Diego

Two dogs enjoying being off leash on Fiesta Island, May 21, 2019.

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Two dogs enjoying being off leash on Fiesta Island, May 21, 2019.

An outbreak of leptospirosis, a contagious bacterial disease, has been reported in dogs in the region, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced Thursday.

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.

Listen to this story by Jacob Aere.

Dog owner Seaver Soon is a resident in Mission Hills who says he’s worried for his pup, Archer.

“It’s definitely concerning that there’s this new infection that most dogs in San Diego aren’t routinely vaccinated against. And so I want to get educated on the topic," Soon said.

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.

Reported by Jacob Aere

Dr. Jenna Olsen of B Street Veterinary Hospital in Hillcrest says the disease can spread when a dog comes in contact with urine from an infected animal.

“Common places we are going to see it here in San Diego are going to be the dog parks, dog beaches and boarding facilities," Olsen said.

Signs of leptospirosis in dogs are varied and can include fever, muscle weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, low energy and frequent urination, which may be bloody.

This week, the county 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 by 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 Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer. "If your dog shows any signs, you should take it to your vet immediately."

Olsen says there is a vaccine for the bacterial disease, but without the shots it can be deadly.

“With treatment luckily, there is a 70-80 % survival rate. And that treatment can vary depending on the severity of the illness," she said.

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.

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