Earlier this year, the common sight of rats on the New York streets became far more than just unsettling. The disease which is present in the rats’ urine actually caused serious illnesses to three residents of the Bronx and ultimately the death of one individual. The cause of these illnesses was a disease called leptospirosis which led to the affected people being hospitalized with kidney and liver failure. While two survived, one person was not so lucky and unfortunately passed away.
A Recent Surge in Cases
After these cases in New York, there has been a resurgence in leptospirosis cases in Arizona. The rare disease has officially been labeled as a concern for both humans and dogs resident in the area. (1) And just recently in India, the disease caused the death of two people. (2)
The disease does not only affect humans. You are even more likely to have heard of the condition if you are a dog owner. There is a recent case in Philadelphia of a dog owner mourning the loss if her dog to the disease. (3)
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a rare bacterial infection. Despite being so rare in humans, it is actually the most common form of zoonosis meaning a disease which can transmit from animals to humans. The infection can spread in several different ways which we will look at soon. Severe cases of leptospirosis are known as Weil’s disease.
As well as affecting humans, pets can also be infected with leptospirosis. In pets, the disease more commonly affects dogs than cats and it also affects wild animals. While the disease rarely affects humans, it is still good practice to do all you can to avoid it. Thankfully, there are a number of natural ways of preventing and treating the disease in animals and in humans.
The typical symptoms of leptospirosis resemble the symptoms of flu or other general bacterial infections. Because of this and the fact that the disease is very rare, it is often mistaken for a more common disease. While most people suffer from the following symptoms, it is possible for the disease to be asymptomatic meaning people do not display any signs at all.
The symptoms of leptospirosis usually come on very suddenly and include the following:
- high fever
- muscle ache
- nausea and vomiting
- a rash
- red eyes
It typically takes 28 days for the onset of symptoms after contracting the infection. The duration of the sickness can range from just a few days to weeks or even months.
The symptoms of lepto are often experienced in two separate phases. During the initial phase, a person can experience a number of the symptoms listed above before making a brief recovery and then experiencing the same symptoms anew. During the second phase of the illness, more serious complications can occur including liver failure, kidney failure and meningitis. This second, more severe phase is when the condition is known as Weil’s disease.
Symptoms in Pets
Your pets may exhibit few, if any symptoms of the disease but dogs are more likely than cats to show signs. As a general rule, younger dogs display more severe symptoms than older animals.
The following signs and symptoms may be seen in dogs with leptospirosis:
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- severe weakness
While dogs are affected by lepto more often, cats can display very similar symptoms of the disease. The time between the exposure to the infection and the onset of these symptoms is typically between a week and 14 days in pets but can be shorter or considerably longer.
Causes and Risk Factors
- Leptospirosis spreads via direct contact with urine from infected animals and also contact with contaminated water, food and soil. Many animals whether wild or domesticated may be infected . These include rodents, cattle, horses, pigs, dogs and cats but most mammals can also be infected with the disease.
- When an animal infected with lepo urinates, the bacteria may contaminate the soil and crops as well as water sources like rivers and lakes. The bacteria is hardy and can survive in the water and soil for many months.
- Humans can contract the bacteria if they have a cut in their skin or via mucous membranes which make direct contact to the urine or other source contaminated by the urine. It is also possible to ingest the bacteria from contaminated sources like crops and water.
- It is very rare but possible for an infected person to give the disease to another person. It can be transmitted through an infected person’s urine while it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass it to the unborn child. In very rare cases, leptospirosis has been transmitted through intercourse with an infected partner.
- The leptospirosis bacteria thrives in warm and wet conditions so people who live in hot areas with lots of rainfall are at a higher risk. As an example, Hawaii is known to have more of the bacteria in its streams and ponds than any other state in the US. Of the 200 or so annual cases of the disease in the US, around half are in Hawaii.
- Living in areas where rats and other rodents are more common increases your risk of contracting the disease.
- Dogs are more at risk of infection than humans. This is because they tend to sniff in areas where other animals have urinated.
- People who work with animals like vets, pet store employees and zoo employees are more at risk of infection.
Conventional treatment for humans and pets for leptospirosis is usually antibiotics such as penicillin. A course is likely to be prescribed immediately while intravenous antibiotics will be given in more severe cases.
Vaccinations for dogs are available which protect the animal for about a year. There are no human vaccines currently available.
1) Trash Management
The risk of exposure to the disease is much higher in areas where rodents thrive. Areas with a lot of trash whether it be personal garbage or dumpsters are attractive to rats and other rodents. This means that contaminated urine may be about.
To ensure that you do not catch any unwanted bacteria from garbage, make sure that you always wash thoroughly after being in contact with it. Be extra vigilant if you have a cut or wound on your hands and arms. Wearing rubber gloves whenever you contact garbage can give you an extra layer of protection. If you are involved in garbage collection or are in contact with an are with large amounts of garbage, wear protective shoes and do not wear sandals.
2) Rodent Control
Rodents and rats in particular can be very dangerous to human health so just taking care to get rid of them can help protect against numerous diseases including leptospirosis. Many of the worst cases of infection including Weil’s disease are linked to bacteria transmitted by rats.
These are some of the best natural methods of ridding yourself of these unwanted creatures:
- Boric acid
- Essential oils such as citronella, eucalyptus and peppermint
- Make sure that your trash is well sealed
- Make sure you home is well sealed
3) Avoid Contaminated Water
Because a body of water like puddles, lakes and streams may be contaminated with the bacteria that cause leptospirosis, you should avoid consuming water from dubious sources. You should also make sure that your pet avoids these sources to take extra care not to drink or let your pet drink from standing water where the bacteria thrives.
4) Think Before Taking a Swim
As well as not drinking from contaminated water sources, you should be careful where you swim and where your pets go swimming. Freshwater ponds and lakes are potentially contaminated with the bacteria and because the water can be swallowed so easily it can increase the risk.
You should be extra careful if you have any open wounds, cuts, abrasions or ulcers on your skin. The same applies to your pet and if they have any open wounds, take care that they do not go wandering into potentially contaminated water.
5) Boost your Immune System Naturally
It is vital to keep your immune system in the best possible shape to ward of infection and illness. It is also a good way to reduce your risk of infections like leptospirosis. The immune system helps to fight off harmful bacteria and is largely responsible for your overall good health.
There are many natural ways to keep your immune system in the best possible working order. These include spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric, nutritious diets rich in vitamin D and probitotics which are found on fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir and yogurt. While it is better to get your nutrition through your diet, probiotics and vitamin supplements can be very effective.
6) Homeopathic Remedies for Dogs
There are a number of different homeopathic remedies for treating leptospirosis in dogs. The following can help depending on your the symptoms your pet is exhibiting…
- Aconitum napellus to prevent shock and limit the disease’s progression.
- Arsenicum album for gastric symptoms and dehydration.
- Berberis vulgaris for general liver health and pain.
- Baptisia for depression and muscle soreness.
- Crotalus horridus for jaundice
- Mercurius corrosivus for diarrhea especially bloody diarrhea and mucous membrane ulceration.
- Lycopodium for loss of appetite and wasting.
- Phosphorus for vomiting and coughing.
- Leptospirosis nosode which is used with some of the other homeopathic remedies. It is believed to prevent the leptospirosis bacteria from building up in the kidneys.
If your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms of leptospirosis, make sure that you consult a vet as soon as possible and ask them about these remedies to make sure you are using the most suitable treatment.