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The New York City Department of Health is investigating multiple dog deaths that may be linked to a rat-borne disease, and a popular Brooklyn park has been closed while officials investigate.
At least four pets have symptoms similar to leptospirosis, a bacterial disease transmitted through the urine, particularly of rodents and livestock.
Leptospirosis can be a life-threatening disease in dogs. In humans, it is usually similar to a case of flu. Transmission from dogs to humans is considered rare.
Councilor Lincoln Restler serves Williamsburg, where McCarren Park is nestled. Restler took to social media to announce that he received reports of dog run-related deaths last week.
McCarren Park is closed Mondays and all week for emergency repairs. NYC Parks is working on interim improvements including updating dog run drainage, installing rodent-resistant trash cans, and adding mulch.
“We want our four legged friends to be happy and healthy and are sad to learn that some puppies may have been recently affected by leptospirosis. We are actively working with the Department of Health and Mental Health and are exploring ways to mitigate the risks involved,” NYC Parks said in a statement.
According to the department, characterizing the reported cases as an outbreak is imprecise as the link has yet to be confirmed.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Health is conducting safe pest control and notes that an exterminator last checked the area three weeks ago.
The Associate Regional Medical Director, Dr. Jeremy Kimmelstiel, of the Bond Vet Clinic, explains that leptospirosis symptoms can vary from mild to moderate to severe.
“In the mild sense, it may just be a one-off day. More moderate clinical signs that we would see are vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. In the severe forms, there is significant kidney or liver failure,” said Dr. Kimmelstiel to NBC New York.
Symptoms in severe cases coincide with loss of appetite, increased thirst or urination, and yellowing of the skin or whiteness around the eyes.
To prevent spread, Dr. Kimmelstiel states not to bring a dog into the park unless it is comfortable, avoiding densely populated areas, and checking park conditions.
If there is a lot of excrement around, choose another place to socialize the pet. Also discourage a dog from drinking potentially contaminated standing water.
“Our dogs can definitely be affected by the animals that live here and have a right to live here. Of course we know there are issues with the rat population, but that’s not something we can massively change,” said Dr. Kimmelstiel.
If caught early, leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics. More severe cases may require dialysis.
This vet suggests testing the pet for symptoms as soon as possible and getting vaccinated to prevent infection.
“We call it a single bacterium, but there are actually about 400 or 500 variants of leptospirosis in the world. We vaccinate against four of the most common, but there is always a chance that another variant of leptospirosis could become contagious even in a previously infected or vaccinated dog,” shared Dr. Kimmelstiel.