Warning for animal borne diseases

NT Government

Territorians are being warned about an increased risk of animal borne diseases this wet season.

Leptospirosis and brucellosis are bacterial diseases that can spread from infected animals to humans.

NT Health Director of the Centre for Disease Control, Dr Vicki Krause, said cases of both diseases have been reported in the Northern Territory.

Leptospirosis – or Lepto – is a disease found in animals such as dogs, pigs, cattle, rats, bats and possums.

“Infection may occur through exposure to an animal or contaminated water, mud, soil or vegetation – especially after heavy rains during the wet season,” Dr Krause said.

“On average, there are between one and four cases of leptospirosis notified per year in the Territory.

“Last year however, there was an outbreak during the wet season of 13 cases, mostly amongst people working in the cattle industry.

“We are asking those who work with animals to remain especially vigilant in the coming weeks, as we have already recorded six cases this year.”

The bacteria that causes lepto can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth or skin cuts, with symptoms usually presenting around 10 days following exposure.

Common lepto symptoms include sudden fever with headaches, chills, muscle pain and red eyes. Other warning signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and a cough.

Most people recover without complications however, severe disease can develop from lepto. Signs to look out for include jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), bleeding, kidney problems, breathing difficulties and confusion.

Treatment with antibiotics as early as possible will help to avoid or reduce severe disease.

Known hotspots in the NT for lepto exposure include the Fogg Dam and Harrison Dam areas in Greater Darwin, rural Darwin, the Katherine district, Finniss River, Tipperary, Daly River and Gunbalanya.

“People who work with animals – such as cattle workers, hunters or vets – or those who are exposed to contaminated water, mud or soil are at higher risk of becoming infected and should get tested early if they develop symptoms,” Dr Krause said.

“Outdoor activities such as camping or bushwalking are also risk factors, especially around rivers and creeks.

“Anyone who develops a fever or becomes unwell after contact with animals or outdoor activities should see their local primary health care centre or GP clinic for assessment.”

Brucellosis, caused by the organism Brucella suis, is a disease commonly associated with feral pigs however, it can affect dogs and other animals.

“Brucellosis can be acquired while hunting, butchering and preparing animals,” Dr Krause said.

Symptoms of brucellosis usually occur five to 60 days after exposure and include fever, headache and muscle and joint pain.

To reduce the risk of infection:

Wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, eye shields, aprons and boots when handling animals or liquid that may be contaminated by animalsWash hands with soap and shower thoroughly after handling animals or carcassesCover skin cuts with a waterproof dressingWear waterproof clothing and footwear outdoorsAvoid swimming or wading in water that may be contaminatedControl rodents by cleaning up rubbish and removing food sourcesDo not feed dogs raw offal or feral meat to avoid infecting them.

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