Mice plague poses leptospirosis risk, chief veterinary officer warns

By Melissa Coade

Thursday July 15, 2021

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that gets into soil or water.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria that gets into soil or water. (LifeGemz/Adobe)

The nation’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Mark Schipp, has warned that the explosion of mice affecting parts of eastern Australia is increasing the risk of leptospirosis.

Dr Schipp explained that leptospirosis is caused by the Leptospira bacterium and is spread through the urine of infected animals. The bacteria in infected urine that gets into soil or water can survive for weeks, and in some cases months, he said. 

Contaminated puddles and ponds or any kind of stagnant water that contained rodent urine posed a particular risk, Dr Schipp said.

“Avoiding contact with rodent populations and being aware of the potential disease risks when working or undertaking recreational activities in affected areas is important,” Schipp said.

“Veterinarians play a vital role in the control of leptospirosis by educating farmers and dog owners about the risks to cattle, pet dogs and to themselves.”

Schipp said that although the incidence of leptospirosis was ‘relatively rare’ in Australia, the risk increased during times of flooding and in warm and moist conditions such as those in the north-eastern NSW and Queensland regions. 

Worldwide, the disease has been reported in more than 150 mammalian species and poses a risk to wildlife and agricultural animals, especially cattle and dogs. Humans can also contract the disease. 

People who frequently deal with animals, such as verts and farmers, or those who spend a lot of time in the water are especially at risk of getting the disease, Schipp said. 

“Veterinarians play a vital role in the control of leptospirosis by educating farmers and dog owners about the risks to cattle, pet dogs and to themselves,” he added. 

Dairy farmers have been advised to vaccinate their herds from the bacterial disease and ensure that any workers on their farms were provided with  protective clothing and appropriate barriers in the dairy. The chief veterinary officer stressed that people visiting cattle or dairy yards should keep to only essential areas when visiting the site. 

“Diseases like leptospirosis highlight the importance of a ‘one health’ approach in recognising the interconnectedness of people, animals and our shared environment, to addressing the complex challenges of preventing zoonotic diseases,” Schipp said.

Farmers could also vaccinate their pet dogs against leptospirosis as a good way to reduce the zoonotic risk to humans, he noted.\


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