By Roger Ball
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health issued a warning about an outbreak of leptospirosis in dogs in May 2017, but many are unaware of the disease.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can affect people and animals, and has been on the rise here since February 2016, according to MCDPH officials.
Symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy and blood in the urine. Not all infected dogs have the symptoms, but they can still spread the disease. In severe cases it may result in liver or kidney failure.
Dogs with the disease can spread it for several months, even if they don’t show the symptoms.There are no reported cases of leptospirosis transferring to humans in Maricopa County.
Craig Levy, MCDPH epizoologist, said there have been two separate clusters of cases in the county. The first was in February 2016, and the second began in the following November and continued into 2017.
“There have been more than 70 reported cases in Maricopa County dogs, but none has transferred to humans,” he said.
Leptospirosis is spread through contaminated urine or urine-contaminated water or soil. That is why dog parks and trails are a concern for veterinarians. The bacteria can be spread by the urine of different infected animals on the ground, including rodents and wildlife, in addition to dogs.
Helen Raker, a regular visitor to the park for small dogs at the R. H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R. H. Johnson Blvd., Sun City West, said it is easy to spread a disease at a dog park.
“Dogs love to pee just as soon they get here,” she said.
A dog can step on contaminated grass or dirt, and then later lick their paw, spreading the disease, he added.
Mr. Levy suspects the disease first came to Arizona with a visitor and warns it could easily start over again. The disease is more prevalent in other parts of the country where the weather is more humid.
Inoculations are available, and he also credits the veterinarians in Maricopa County and Arizona with helping to bring an end to the spread, through inoculations and isolation.
Sun City West resident Wayne Zingsheim and Colt, his Airedale, are regular visitors to the dog park. He was not aware of the disease but said he would definitely check with his vet about the inoculations.
But not everyone agrees about getting the inoculations at this time. Gail McCaslin, a regular visitor to the dog park, said she doesn’t think the vaccine is 100 percent effective, and she frequently cleans her dog, so she believes it isn’t needed.
Dr. Joshua Winston of the Sun City West Animal Hospital, 13576 West Camino del Sol, said he has treated two or three cases of the illness, but has not seen an outbreak in the Northwest Valley. He offers the inoculation but doesn’t promote it.
“I don’t think there is an overwhelming threat in his practice area,” he said. If he started seeing more cases he said he would then promote it.
The inoculation is in two phases—the initial shot, and a booster about three weeks later.