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Dogs Are Dying Of A Highly Contagious Bacterial Disease In Sydney

Vets are warning pet owners to be on high alert after a contagious bacterial disease spread through Sydney's inner-city, killing at least five dogs.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which can be spread among animals in several ways, but most commonly through rat urine that finds way into local waterways.

The disease is relatively rare in Australia, found mostly in rural areas that are warm and moist, such as northeastern NSW and Queensland.

But recently leptospirosis -- or lepto as it is also known -- has killed a number of pet dogs around Surry Hills, Redfern and Darlinghurst, in the middle of Sydney. The City of Sydney council said it is monitoring the issue "closely".

Bu is one of them. Her owners said she died on her ninth birthday.

"The vet who tried to save Bu has said he has had five cases in recent months. One more again after Bu," the owner said via a Facebook post through a local gym.

"Avoid alleyways and places you see lots of rats is the best advice for now," the post continued.

Dr Emily Lucas, from Vets On Crown didn't treat Bu but has treated several dogs that have contracted the potentially deadly disease in recent months.

"I have been a vet in Sydney for eight years and I've never seen a case until recently where I've seen three," she told 10 daily.

Signs And Symptoms.

There are no specific symptoms associated with leptospirosis. Often dogs and cats that have contracted the disease are off-colour, lethargic and have lost their appetite.

In more serious cases, pets will suffer from vomiting, diarrhoea or seizures, while owners may be able to notice jaundice or discolouration in the animal's gums, eyes and skin.

Many owners don't seek medical treatment until it is too late.

"When we see them they are often in liver and kidney failure and it can be an uphill battle to keep them alive," Lucas said.

As a result, Vets On Crown has posted a warning on Facebook to alert the public about the outbreak.

"This condition can be very serious and if you suspect your dog is showing any of these signs we recommend taking them to your local vet immediately, especially if you are in an area with a high density of rats or if you have seen your pet eat/interact with one," the post reads.

Potts Point Vet also issued a warning about the spread of lepto.

In the past month, it has seen two cases of the infection. Both affected dogs frequented the same park, Ward Park on Devonshire Street in Surry Hills.

A spokesperson for ALTRAC Light Rail, responsible for Sydney's new light rail system, said it was restoring that particular park.

"ALTRAC Light Rail has robust environmental controls in place, including vermin control measures. Work has been undertaken in and around Ward Park as part of Sydney Light Rail construction. The park is currently being restored," a spokesperson told 10 daily.

What Has Caused The Lepto Outbreak In Sydney?

It's not yet known why there has been an outbreak of cases in recent months.

The disease prefers warm, moist, alkaline environments and is very rarely seen in urban areas. Lucas from Vets On Crown called the spate of cases "incredibly unusual."

"We are in a little bit of a hotspot and no one knows why but it seems to be increasing in frequency," she said.

"The first case we saw was 12 months ago, then six, then four and then two in the last couple of weeks".

Photo: Getty

A City of Sydney spokesperson told 10 daily the council was aware of and monitoring the situation, and urged pet owners to see a vet if they had concerns.

"There are more than 135 City of Sydney staff and contractors who monitor rats as part of their duties either in public places like parks and streets, or food premises," the spokesperson said.

"More than 110 of those workers are based in public areas, removing food waste, identifying and backfilling rat holes and reporting rats for targeted baiting."

The council also hosts a pest control program including bait stations through Sydney.

"There are currently around 430 bait stations in public areas across the City, using more than 50 kgs of bait per week. Additional stations are placed in response to community complaints," the spokesperson said.

"The City advises property owners to remove overgrown vegetation and accumulated rubbish which might attract vermin, and ensure regular pest control is carried out."

Potts Point Vet suggested the sudden outbreak could have been due to the extensive ground disturbance in recent months and warned that "peak incidence in dogs in leptospira infected areas often follows periods of heavy rainfall or flooding".

How Is It Treated?

There are vaccinations available for your furry friends. If you are in an at-risk area, the advice is to talk with your local vet about vaccinating against the disease.

Vets can order a specific test to check for the highly contagious disease. Affected animals are put in isolation and given strong antibiotics which can reduce the risk of the disease spreading.

Can Humans Contract It?

Yes. It's a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed on to humans.

According to the CSIRO, there are about 200 cases diagnosed around Australia each year, with men affected more than women.

People at risk generally have close contact with animals or are exposed to water, mud, soil, or vegetation contaminated with animal urine.

Symptoms often develop one to two weeks after exposure and include a fever, severe headache, sore muscles, chills, vomiting and red eyes, according to NSW Health.

Photo: Vets On Crown via Facebook

It can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated through antibiotics, but recovery is often slow.

How Can It Be Prevented?

If you work with animals always wear protective clothing, cover cuts, wear gloves, don't smoke or eat around animals and always keep hands clean.

It's also important to avoid swimming in water possibly contaminated with animal urine, to control rodents by cleaning up rubbish and removing food sources, and also wash hands with soap.

Lucas stressed pet owners shouldn't be too worried about the breakout but should instead make themselves familiar with the disease's signs and symptoms so they can act quickly if they or their pet is infected.

Contact the author: kahill@networkten.com.au