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The Ministry of Health has refuted reports by the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) of an outbreak of leptospirosis among dogs, noting that there was no laboratory evidence to support such a claim.
According to Dr. Linnette Peters, Director of Veterinary Public Health in the Ministry, since the start of the year, only seven samples have been submitted to the National Laboratory for testing and none of the samples indicated such a problem.
“There is no laboratory evidence to support this claim and in fact, this problem was only reported in one clinic and in the corporate area. We have about 10 to 15 veterinary clinics, so the fact that one clinic is reporting this is not truly representative,” she told JIS News.
Dr. Peters also said that Jamaica was more then prepared to cope with a possible outbreak of the disease. “We have an ongoing programme in place to address the disease,” she pointed out.
In fact, Jamaica has a national leptospirosis control programme, of which the Ministry of Health is a part. “The Ministry is a part of the programme because leptospirosis is transmitted between humans and animals, which makes it a zoonotic disease,” she explained, adding that the programme involved the investigation of human and animal cases.
In the event of an outbreak, Dr. Peters noted, that there were several measures that the Health Ministry, along with its allied agencies in the Ministry of Agriculture, could implement.
“Some of the measures of course would include targeting prime sources of leptospirosis such as rodents. We would certainly embark on a clean up campaign, public education about rodents, and how persons could keep their general environment clean,” she said, noting that other animals such as dogs, would also be targeted.
“We should not only zero in on rats as carriers of the disease because they are only a part of the reservoir of leptospirosis,” she pointed out.Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira interrogans, which is a type of bacterium. The bacterium is broken down into what are called serovars or subtypes of the bacterium.
Dogs get leptospirosis when abraded skin comes into contact with the urine of an infected animal. The bacteria spreads quickly through the bloodstream causing fever, joint pain among other symptoms, which can last up to a week.
In more severe cases, the illness can result in kidney failure and dependent on the type of leptospirosis involved, liver failure could also occur.
Humans, who come in contact with infected dogs, can also contract the disease, as well as other animals such as cattle and pigs. She appealed to the public to avoid contact with stagnant or fresh water, damp soil or vegetation contaminated by the urine of infected animals, as the disease thrived in moist environments. The bacteria, she explained could enter the body through broken skin and mucous membranes.
Treatment for leptospirosis involves a course of antibiotics and Dr. Peters said that animals and humans respond quite well to the treatment if administered early. Persons, who are severely ill, may need intravenous antibiotic treatment and other supportive care.
As for vaccinations to prevent the disease, Dr. Peters said that all the vaccines available for leptospirosis were imported and in fact, were only effective against two of the eight serovars identified in Jamaica.
“The vaccine will only partially protect the animal and persons from the disease because there are six other serovars that it does not protect against,” she informed.