New York City Department of Health is investigating multiple dog deaths possibly linked to a rat-transmitted illness, and a popular Brooklyn park has been closed as officials investigate.
At least four pets have experienced symptoms close to leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread through urine, especially from rodents and farm animals.
Leptospirosis can be a life-threatening disease in canines. For humans, it is mostly similar to a case of the flu. Transmission from dog to human is considered rare.
Councilmember Lincoln Restler serves Williamsburg where McCarren Park is nestled. Restler announced on social media receiving reports of fatalities linked to the dog-run last week.
McCarren Park is closed Monday and throughout the week for emergency repairs. NYC Parks is working on interim improvements, including updating the dog-run drainage, installing rodent-resistant garbage cans and adding mulch.
"We like our four-legged friends happy and healthy and are sad to learn that some pups may have recently been impacted by leptospirosis. We are actively engaged with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and exploring options to mitigate any related risks," said NYC Parks in a statement.
According to the department, characterizing the reported cases as an outbreak is inaccurate as the link has yet to be confirmed.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is conducting safe pest extermination and notes an exterminator last checked the area three weeks ago.
Associate Regional Medical Director, Dr. Jeremy Kimmelstiel, of Bond Vet clinic, states that symptoms of leptospirosis can be variable from mild, moderate to severe.
"In the mild senses, it may just be a one-off day. More moderate clinical signs that we would see are vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. In the severe forms, it is significant kidney or liver failure," Dr. Kimmelstiel told NBC New York.
Symptoms in severe cases coincide with the loss of appetite, increased thirst or urination, and yellowing of the skin or white around the eyes.
In order to prevent spread, Dr. Kimmelstiel noted to not bring a dog to the park if not feeling well, avoid highly populated areas, and check the conditions of the park.
If much excrement is around, choose another location to socialize the pet. Also, stop a dog from drinking possibly contaminated standing water.
"Our dogs can definitely be affected by the animals that live here and have a right to live here. Certainly, we know there are problems with the rat population, but that is not something we are going to be able to make a massive difference on," said Dr. Kimmelstiel.
If caught early on, leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics. More severe cases may need dialysis.
This veterinarian suggests testing as soon as possible if the pet is experiencing symptoms, as well as getting vaccinated to prevent infection.
"We're calling it a single bacteria, but there are actually around 400 or 500 variants of leptospirosis that exist in the world. We're vaccinating for four of the most common, but there's always a chance that a different variant of leptospirosis could become infectious even in a previously infected or vaccinated dog," shared Dr. Kimmelstiel.