In the past couple of days, the Tampa and Orlando papers have reported on a spike in cases of a bacterial infection in dogs in Florida. This bacteria is Leptospira interrogans, causing the disease we call Leptospirosis. I wrote about Leptospirosis in my vaccine series. If you recall, this bacteria is present in the environment and is carried by animals including wildlife and domestic animals, which excrete the bacteria in their urine. People can also become infected, via abrasions in the skin or ingestion. Symptoms in mammals include fever, painful joints, and lethargy. The infection can be treated with common antibiotics, but if not treated, it can lead to kidney and liver failure and meningitis. Over 200 types (or serovars) of Leptospira have been identified; the current vaccine for dogs covers 4 serovars.
In the Orlando Sentinel article, Dr. Carsten Bandt (chief of emergency and critical care services at University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine) states that his service has diagnosed 12 cases of Leptospirosis since last August. In contrast, in the previous seven years, the emergency service diagnosed zero cases. This does seem like a big increase, and it begs the question, why? There are a number of possibilities, including:
- wildlife depositing larger amounts of Leptospira in the environment and/or dogs having more contact with areas where wildlife have deposited the bacteria;
- increased testing for Leptospirosis leading to more confirmed cases;
- decreased vaccination for Leptospirosis
The questions that popped into my mind when I read the articles were:
- Were any of the 12 dogs vaccinated for Leptospirosis?
- Did the lab testing include the type/serovar causing the infection?
You see, since the dog vaccine covers 4 serovars and over 200 have been named, the chances are fairly good that even vaccinated dogs can be exposed and infected by a serovar not included in the vaccine. In my opinion, if the articles had included this information (if known), they would have been much more balanced. Most importantly, it would allow dog owners in Florida to make an informed decision about whether vaccination is likely to provide real protection in the face of an outbreak.
Because I really want to know the answer to my two questions, I sent Dr. Bandt an email. I am hoping he responds to shed some light on this. If and when he does, I will update this post.
Do you choose to have your dog(s) vaccinated for Leptospirosis?