ST. GEORGE — At least 13 cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can infect humans, have been confirmed in dogs in St. George, officials say.
The disease can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ten of the confirmed cases are in dog patients at Red Hills Animal Hospital and the other three are at other area veterinary facilities, according to a news release from the animal hospital.
The outbreak was likely brought to southern Utah by an infected dog that stayed at Red Rock Pet Resort a few weeks ago, Dr. Scott Hannig, veterinarian with Red Hills Animal Hospital, said in the release.
While the original sick dog hasn’t been identified, Hannig theorized the disease might have come from Phoenix, Arizona, which experienced a recent leptospirosis outbreak.
“The bacteria can survive for months under the right conditions and is extremely contagious to both dogs and humans,” Hannig said in the release.
Sometimes it’s not obvious to boarding or dog-day care facilities that they are housing an infected dog, since dogs can spread the disease for months and not show any clinical symptoms, Hannig notes in the release.
“This could happen at any pet facility where dogs are in close proximity,” a Facebook post from the pet resort read.
At this point, about half of the sick dogs have been hospitalized and all dogs are responding well to treatment, Hannig said.
Blood and urine tests were used to diagnose the cases of the disease, the release stated.
To prevent the disease and keep it from spreading, veterinarians at the animal hospital recommend all dogs get vaccinated against leptospirosis, which was available as of Tuesday at Red Hills Animal Hospital.
“The vaccine is proven to protect dogs against most forms of Leptospirosis and is critical to controlling the disease,” the release stated.
Staff at the animal hospital have quarantined sick animals from others to prevent infecting other dogs, including separate examination areas.
Additionally, staff and doctors are also “following strict guidelines to keep themselves safe from the infection,” the release stated.
The infection mainly spreads through the urine of infected dogs since the leptospirosis accumulates in the blood and kidneys, according to an associate veterinarian at Red Hills.
“Other dogs, and people can be infected through breaks in the skin and mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose) from playing in shared pools, or being around urine from an infected dog,” the associate veterinarian stated in the news release.
With this outbreak, the most common symptoms of infected dogs in southern Utah have been lethargy, inappetence, sore muscles or joints, fever, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the release.
The hospital has received more than 300 phone calls about the disease and in an effort to educate the community further, has scheduled a specialist to present on the disease on Sept. 18 to area veterinarians and owners or managers of boarding facilities.
“Now that this disease is in our area, it is going to take a coordinated effort from all those involved in animal care to prevent it from spreading and causing future outbreaks,” Hannig said in the release.
Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly spelled Hannig's name as Hanig.