The local news has been abuzz lately with health hazards that may affect both humans and the creatures that share our lives.
Eastern equine encephalitis, commonly called EEE, and blue-green algae are two current hot topics. Later this fall, leptospirosis and tick-transmitted infections, such as Lyme disease, are likely to hit center stage.
The details of these infections may not seem relevant to our day-to-day lives. However, understanding the basics is important so that we can make decisions to minimize risks and protect our two-legged and four-legged family.
Eastern equine encephalitis is a virus that causes brain infections and is transmitted by mosquito bites. It was first recognized in Massachusetts almost 200 years ago, when dozens of horses suddenly died from a mysterious illness with neurological signs. Horses are particularly susceptible to EEE illness. However, other animals are at risk, too. Humans, dogs, other mammals, and even reptiles and amphibians may be infected.
EEE is maintained in nature through a cycle between birds and mosquitoes. Infection rates peak during late summer, when bird and mosquito populations are high. The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Humans, horses and other animals do not contribute to the spread of this virus.
Although EEE is rare, infections are serious when they occur. There is currently no cure for EEE, neither for people nor animals, and infections can be fatal.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your pets:
Stay indoors from dusk to dawn. This is when mosquitoes are most active and feeding.
Eliminate standing water in your yard, as these areas are good breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Birdbaths should be cleaned frequently.
If horses grace your life, talk to your veterinarian about the EEE vaccination. Fortunately for horses, there is an effective vaccine that protects them from infection.
Blue-green algae has also received a lot of attention in the past few weeks. This “algae” is caused by cyanobacteria, an organism that flourishes in warm, nutrient-rich water. A toxic bloom can appear suddenly and is dangerous for pets and people.
Blue-green algae is especially problematic for dogs, who may happily jump into an affected pond despite the scum appearance of the bloom. The toxins are devastating and can cause illness, including rapid liver failure. Although dogs may survive with medical support, many succumb to the toxins and die.
Ponds and lakes that drain farmland are particularly susceptible to these toxic blooms. Nitrogen-rich runoff is an excellent food source for blue-green algae and helps it flourish.
The best way to protect your dogs from blue-green algae is to keep them out of suspicious ponds and lakes during seasonal spikes. If your Fido is a water lover, though, this can be challenging. Try a romping route that is free from water temptations, and instead, use a garden hose in your yard for water fun.
Leptospirosis is another good reason to avoid ponds and lakes at this time of year. The Leptospira bacteria are spread in the urine of infected mammals, including rodents, wildlife, pets and farm animals. Either direct contact with infected urine or exposure to runoff in puddles or lakes may put an individual at risk. Leptospirosis is also a zoonosis, which means it can spread from animals to humans.
These organisms like warm environments and thrive in late summer and into fall. Infected animals show signs of liver or kidney failure. Sometimes, the onset of illness is slow, with vague symptoms such as increased thirst or urination. Other times, sick individuals rapidly decline. Once diagnosed, leptospirosis may be treated with antibiotics, but some cases are nevertheless fatal.
People are usually exposed to leptospirosis through recreational activities such as swimming in contaminated lakes, but exposure to infected animal urine is also a risk factor. The disease in humans can be severe and deadly.
Vaccines are available to help protect dogs from leptospirosis infection. There are no feline leptospirosis vaccines, but fortunately for Fluffy, cats are quite resistant to this disease.
As the summer sun fades into cooler nights, another familiar foe makes its presence more visible. Deer ticks have two-year life cycles, but they thrive in the cooler temperate weather of fall and spring. Along with ticks come horrible infections such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.
The bull’s-eye for Lyme disease encircles us here. Dogs can be protected with an annual vaccination for Lyme disease.
To help stop ticks from choosing your Fido or Fluffy for their next feast, use a monthly tick preventive. Your veterinarian can recommend safe, FDA-approved medicine for your pets. Be sure to use the product as directed, and never share Fido’s tick product with Fluffy.
With a few precautions, you can still enjoy the end of this beautiful season with your pets.
Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. Do you have questions for her? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.