The recent wet weather caused by Cyclone Gabrielle has led to a concerning rise in leptospirosis cases among humans.
Although there is mixed information in the animal health surveillance data, it strongly suggests that the bacterium is circulating in animals. Humans are getting infected either directly or indirectly by contact with urine from infected animals, possibly through contact with floodwater.
“There is an increased risk of leptospirosis infections in animals and humans,” Massey University Professor of Veterinary Public Health Jackie Benschop says.
“We’ve seen an increase in human cases and there has been heightened talk among veterinarians of increased observation and treatment of lepto cases in dogs and sheep.
“The focus has been on increased cases in the flood-affected areas on the East Coast, but discussions indicate the problem may be more widespread.”
A joint statement has been issued by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Animal Health team, Massey University, the New Zealand Veterinary Association and the Veterinary Council, raising awareness about the risk of leptospirosis in animals.
They will be sending a survey to veterinarians and facilitating discussion with vets about the number of cases of the disease, treatment and preventative vaccinations.
“This situation calls for attention and measures to protect both humans and animals from the spread of this disease,” Benschop says.
She recommends key preventatives such as talking to your vet about vaccinating livestock and dogs, keeping on top of rodent control and utilising personal protective equipment including covering cuts and grazes.
“It is important to seek medical attention early when feeling unwell and it can be useful to ask your doctor if you may have lepto.
“Symptoms can be similar to the flu or covid-19, including fever, severe headache, sore muscles, chills and vomiting. They usually come on suddenly and people with leptospirosis may have some or all of these symptoms.”
The MPI Animal Health (endemics) team was tasked with monitoring endemic diseases that could increase post-flooding through their passive animal health surveillance system. Leptospirosis was one of those diseases.
“The increased wet weather which was exacerbated by Cyclone Gabrielle has increased the likelihood of leptospirosis, and the increase in rodents in the recovery phase would have contributed to the problem,” Benschop says.
More: If you have any questions or queries, contact the MPI Animal Health team via email, phone or through firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the September edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.