The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Vermont Department of Health is investigating a group of 10 puppies potentially infected with leptospirosis that were imported to Vermont and New Hampshire from Puerto Rico on November 9.
On November 12, a number of these puppies were brought to the outdoor patio at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew Pizzeria at 9 South Street in Hanover, NH, where patrons were able to interact with them. Since coming to the area, five of these puppies have become sick and one tested positive for leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from animals to humans and other pets.
Leptospirosis is considered the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. An estimated 100 to 200 leptospirosis cases are reported annually in the U.S., with about half in Puerto Rico. Leptospires are long, thin, motile spirochete bacteria. They may be free-living in fresh water, soil and mud, but only in tropical areas. It is extremely unlikely that leptospires associated with this event can survive current outdoor conditions in our region. However, the bacteria can be associated with animal hosts, such as these puppies or secondarily infected animals, and the Leptospira bacterium can be excreted continuously or intermittently in untreated animal urine for several years, even if the animal is asymptomatic.
“Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from animals to people usually through direct contact with an infected animal’s urine, or contact with environments that have been contaminated by animal urine,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. “Individuals or pets who may have come into contact with these puppies should speak to their healthcare providers and veterinarians about whether antibiotics may be needed to prevent leptospirosis infection.”
Patrons at Ramunto’s who did not interact with the puppies are not at risk for infection. All households that received one of the 10 puppies have been contacted. DHHS is collaborating with the Vermont Department of Health and the NH Department of Agriculture to investigate additional animal and human exposures.
Leptospirosis occurs worldwide, and although it is rare in the United States, infections are known to increase after flooding and natural disasters like hurricanes when humans and animals come into contact with water and soil that has been contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The bacteria enter a person’s body through the skin or mucous membranes, especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Person to person transmission is rare. Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans are variable and can be very mild to severe. Early symptoms typically include fever, flu-like symptoms, and gastrointestinal illness. A minority of individuals can go on to develop severe symptoms including liver failure, kidney failure, and central nervous system infection (meningitis). Antibiotics are available to both treat and prevent infection.
Individuals and families who adopt pets from other countries or U.S. territories like Puerto Rico should be aware of the risks of importing animals, and these animals should undergo the appropriate veterinary inspection and quarantine to prevent the spread of diseases such as leptospirosis.
Anyone with questions about leptospirosis can call the New Hampshire Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 603-271-4496. More information is also available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.
Veremedy was instrumental in making the diagnosis in the sick puppies, initiating treatment for the surviving puppies, and reporting the situation to the state public health authorities.