Warning on leptospirosis in humans

Suckler and dairy farmers have been warned about the dangers of picking up the debilitating disease leptospirosis from infected cows. The human form of the disease causes flu-like illness with muscle pain and headaches, leading in some cases to meningitis. In animals, it is highly infectious, causing abortions, weak calves and sudden drops in milk yield. Fergal Morris, veterinary specialist with Intervet-Schering Plough, said that the prevalence of leptospirosis in dairy cows is well-known with 90 percent of dairy farmers carrying out routine vaccination.  However, less than 10 percent of suckler farmers vaccinate in spite of a UCD study showing that the vast majority of herds show evidence of exposure to the disease.  The study, published in 2007, showed that almost half of all animals in suckler herds are positive for leptospirosis with larger herds at greatest risk of infection. Fergal Morris said infected urine is the most common cause of infection in animals but the disease can also be spread in infected milk and uterine discharges, especially the afterbirth of infected cows.  The leptospirosis organism can survive for up to six weeks in water, especially ponds and other stagnant water sources. In human infection, dairy farmers are at particular risk from cows urinating in the milking parlour. He advised that all breeding stock should be vaccinated against the disease.  As first-calving cows are most prone to infection, he stressed the importance of vaccinating heifers with two shots, four to six weeks apart, prior to breeding.  On most farms, an annual booster vaccination is usually sufficient to maintain immunity.