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Leptospirosis in Cattle: Symptoms and Prevention

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause reproductive problems and can be transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated urine or tissues.

Aarushi Chadha

Leptospirosis is a contagious disease that infects both animals and humans. It is caused by a bacteria called Leptospira, there are over 200 different strains found worldwide. This disease is considered an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with cattle, for instance, farmers and veterinarians.

Handlers incur a huge economic loss due to leptospirosis. This is because this disease leads to a decrease in milk production, a decrease in the number of calves produced due to abortions, and a high death rate in calves because this disease spreads to human beings and requires medical intervention for recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis:

Leptospirosis is characterized by-

  • Abortions at any time of the pregnancy

  • Birth of a weak offspring

  • Blood-tinged milk in lactating mothers

  • Reproductive failure

  • Blood-colored urine

  • Rough and dry coat

  • Severe fever and death in young animals

  • Reduction in the quantity of milk

How is Leptospirosis spread and transmitted?

  • Cattle which live in regions that are hot and humid climates are prone to leptospirosis.

  • Leptospirosis is likely to occur in cattle that frequently come in contact with certain wildlife, such as feral pigs.

  • The chances of leptospirosis are higher in a herd with a previous history of leptospirosis on the property, in the herd, and in the flock.

  • The bacteria Leptospira is commonly found in a wet area, therefore, animals that graze or bathe near a lake are at a higher risk of leptospirosis.

  • Leptospirosis is also very common in properties that trade cattle in conjunction with a breeding herd.

  • This disease also spread through contaminated food, pastures, and water supplies.

Control and Prevention of Leptospirosis

Handlers are recommended to form an integrated program based on vaccination, specific management alterations, and antimicrobials. Antimicrobial treatment helps prevent abortion and other reproductive problems. They are also recommended to reduce the animals’ exposure to the bacteria Leptospira through practices like regular cleaning of milking equipment, soil sealing, and division of animals into smaller batches.

Co-grazing with other animals, especially pigs should be avoided and access to swampy areas, lakes, and other collected water by cattle should be limited. Vaccination is considered the cheapest and most effective measure of leptospirosis prevention and control. Usually, the cattle should be vaccinated once every six months, particularly before the start of the breeding season.

The vaccinations of young calves should be carried out before young cattle become infected. When the calves are from cows vaccinated in late pregnancy, vaccination should commence at about 3 months of age. Otherwise, calves can be vaccinated for 1 month. To obtain a high level of protection, the first injection of the leptospirosis vaccine should be followed with a second dose 4–6 weeks later. If unvaccinated stock is brought onto the property, they should be vaccinated on arrival with two injections of leptospirosis vaccine 4–6 weeks apart, followed by an annual booster.

Leptospirosis in human beings

Leptospirosis in human beings is transmitted from the infected animal. Usually, human beings become infected when they come in direct contact with the infected animal, water, food, or contaminated soil when they drink unpasteurized milk, and when they handle an aborted fetus or assist in birth without proper protection.

It has several symptoms, some of which include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, shivering, sore throat, limb shakes, and difficulty doing simple tasks. In pregnant women, the spread of this disease can prove fatal to the human fetus. This disease can be prevented in human beings by-

  • Drinking only pasteurized milk

  • Always wash equipment and hands thoroughly after contact with cattle

  • Wearing full-body protective clothing

  • Control rodent infestation

  • Separating cattle from feral pigs, domestic pigs, and other wildlife

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