The time: June and July, 1998. The place: Springfield , Illinois and Madison , Wisconsin . The event: An outbreak of acute febrile illness among athletes participating in the triathlons. Testing by the CDC identified the bacterium Leptospira as the agent for illness in athletes and in persons with occupational or recreational exposure to lake water. 

Leptospirosis in people is an acute febrile illness characterized by fever, chills, tremors, muscle pain and headache. Other signs may include conjunctivitis, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes. Meningitis, jaundice, renal failure, hemorrhage, or shock may follow. Jaundice indicates liver damage and increases the fatality rate. Mild leptospirosis is more common and typically causes vague, flu-like symptoms that follow recovery. Many of those infections go unreported.

Leptospira infect domestic (pets and livestock) and wild animals. The bacteria are shed through the urine and contaminate the environment. Leptospira organisms can be found in fresh water, damp soil, vegetation, and mud, particularly during summer months. Leptospirosis is an occupational disease of farmers, sewer and slaughterhouse workers, but many people can become infected while swimming or playing in contaminated water. The disease also can be transmitted through direct contact with urine, blood or tissue from an infected animal. The bacteria can enter through turgid or injured skin and through intact mucus membranes. It is generally not transmitted from person to person.

In dogs, Leptospirosis is an acute infection of the kidney and liver and, sometime, the whole body. Chronic kidney disease is a common sequella of infection. Infected females may become infertile or have persistent abortions. Vague or mild signs contribute to under diagnosis.

A recent study suggests that the prevalence of leptospirosis among dogs is on the rise. Herding, working, and gundog breed categories and sexually intact male dogs appear to be at the greatest risk. There are many kinds of Leptospira, which make vaccinations difficult. Most dogs are routinely vaccinated for the major two types of the bacterium. Since wildlife are a common reserve of Leptospira (rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons, hedgehogs, voles, opossum, mole, hedgehog, fox, woodchuck, muskrats, deer and fox), and neighboring dogs may be carriers. Even the back yard is not a safe place.  

Avoiding unsafe water reservoirs, practicing pest and rodent control and providing adequate vaccinations significantly reduces the risk of contracting leptospirosis by your dogs and your family. Your veterinarian will help you address the issue and provide you with more specific information.

More information at http://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/pets/

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