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Leptospirosis raising health concern among companion animal owners

Re-emerging or re-recognized? Only your veterinarian knows for sure.

While foot and mouth and mad cow diseases have dominated news headlines in recent months, another disease is raising health concerns among owners of companion animals across the country, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can infect almost any species of animal -- dogs, horses, cows, pigs, etc. According to Dr. Kenneth Harkin, an assistant professor of clinical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, the disease is rarely seen in cats. Leptospirosis can cause an array of clinical signs. The severity of the disease can vary widely; however, leptospirosis has the potential to be severe and even fatal.

The disease is caused by Leptospirosis spp., a spirochete bacteria related to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and syphilis. There are more than 300 pathogenic varieties (serovars), worldwide. Historically, in the United States, two varieties -- canicola and icterohaemorrhagiae -- were primarily responsible for the disease in dogs. The incidence of infection from these two has declined over the past 30 years, most likely due in large measure to vaccination. The increase in cases most recently has been due primarily to the varieties pomona and grippotyphosa. Until recently no vaccine for these varieties was available.

Leptospira varieties have what are termed maintenance hosts and incidental hosts. Maintenance hosts are those animal species which serve as a reservoir for the Leptospira organism, and in which transmission is very efficient. Incidental hosts include those species of animals that do not act as reservoirs, but that can be infected by the organism. The organism replicates in the kidneys of maintenance hosts and is shed in the urine. In warm damp environments the organism can survive for months in water or soil. Transmission can occur to the new host, either maintenance or incidental, by
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Contact: Dr. Kenneth Harkin
harkin@vet.ksu.edu
785-532-4251
Kansas State University
9-May-2001


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