Public Health England has launched an investigation following identification of leptospirosis in an animal shelter volunteer. Leptospirosis is caused by the bacterium Leptospira, a bug that can be found in a variety of animal species. It’s shed in urine and loves to survive in cool, moist environments, so people and domestic animals are often exposed in parks and similar outdoor areas.
Information about the animal shelter volunteer’s infection is limited. The person presumably could have been infected at the shelter from direct contact with infected wildlife (e.g. rats), contact with an environment contaminated by infected wildlife, or contact with infected domestic animals (e.g. dogs). However, exposure outside of the shelter is also possible. It may ultimately be difficult to determine the source. Unless the shelter has recently had a dog with confirmed lepto infection and can compare the bacterial types in the person and the dog, or they can detect Leptospira in an animal or the environment after the fact (not easy), a definite link will be hard to confirm.
As reported in the North Hampshire Telegraph, “To ensure the safety and welfare of volunteers and the public, the court order included the following measures which have been carried out: Robust pest control in place; Removal of waste from across the site; Improved welfare provision for the volunteers; Welfare information provided to volunteers by PHE; Public access limited to the front part of the site only.” All these items are a good idea in terms of infection control at any time.
Outbreaks of leptospirosis in people occur, but almost always from mass exposure to contaminated water sources (e.g. 42% of people in an Eco-Challenge race in Malaysian Borneo). Most likely (and hopefully) this is an unfortunate isolated incident, but surveillance will be underway to make sure more people aren’t infected.
More information about leptospirosis is available on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.