Disease feared at puppy adoption party in New Hampshire

American families may have been exposed to a rare bacteria after playing with and fostering puppies rescued from Puerto Rico.  

Two of the puppies, Tito and Chili, developed symptoms and abruptly died of leptospirosis days after they were brought to the US. No symptoms have been reported in humans.

Leptospirosis is a bacteria found in tropical regions and can fatally damage the kidneys and liver. In rare cases, humans can catch the disease from being exposed to the urine of infected animals. 

One other puppy has tested positive for the bacteria, but the remaining seven appear to be healthy. 

Some of 10 puppies brought to New Hampshire from Puerto Rico are infected with a rare bacteria called leptospirosis. Chili (pictured) and another puppy, Tito, have died and one other is being treated, but the other seven puppies, have shown no symptoms

Some of 10 puppies brought to New Hampshire from Puerto Rico are infected with a rare bacteria called leptospirosis. Chili (pictured) and another puppy, Tito, have died and one other is being treated, but the other seven puppies, have shown no symptoms

Some of 10 puppies brought to New Hampshire from Puerto Rico are infected with a rare bacteria called leptospirosis. Chili (pictured) and another puppy, Tito, have died and one other is being treated, but the other seven puppies, have shown no symptoms

The batch of 10 puppies arrived in New Hampshire from Puerto Rico on November 9. 

The puppies were accepted by Surfin’ Sato, a nonprofit in New Hampshire, which kept them isolated for two nights before distributing eight of the ten animals to foster families in the region. 

On November 12, Ramunto’s Brick and Brew Pizzeria in Hanover, New Hampshire hosted a fundraiser and adoption fair, where some 200 local families may have played with the newly-imported pups. 

That night, one of the puppies, Tito became lethargic, developed diarrhea and eventually died of the leptospirosis infection. The next day, Chili also succumbed to his symptoms.

Aimee Goodwin, director of Surfin’ Sato, says that the puppies had shown no symptoms of leptospirosis before the event. 

At the event, ‘the dogs were on the porch, where there was no food. There were no restaurant employees out there, and really no chance for cross-contamination,’ she says. 

Still, the new Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services advises caution. ‘Individuals or pets who may have come into contact with these puppies should speak to their healthcare providers and veterinarians about whether antibiotics may be needed to prevent leptospirosis infection,’ said state epidemiologist Dr Benjamin Chan.

Leptospirosis  can be transmitted to humans, though it rarely happens. Typically, people get infected when their abrasians or cuts come into contact with urine or other bodily fluids from infected animals.

The bacteria can cause a high fever, headache, bleeding, muscle pain, chills, red eyes, and vomiting in humans. In very rare, untreated cases it can cause fatal kidney or liver failure. 

So far, no one has reported symptoms of the infection.  

American animal rescues commonly accept dogs from Puerto Rico, but in the aftermath of the hurricanes that laid waste to the territory, there has been an unprecedented influx of animals in need of homes. 

Surfin’ Sato exclusively rescues dogs from Puerto Rico, typically only in coordination with its trusted partner facilities there, according to Goodwin.

But, she says, since the storms, she has also accepted animals from individuals overwhelmed by the number of animals they have been caring for.

‘Since storm, we’ve been working with independent partners who took dogs in during storm and din’t want to put them back on the street,’ she says.  

Before being flown the the US, all animals have to be examined and deemed healthy by veterinarians. To meet the requirements to fly, the puppies were also vaccinated against leptospirosis, Goodwin says.

Ollie, Chance, Zorro and Benny have not shown any symptoms of leptospirosis since arriving in New Hampshire from Puerto Rico, but they are being closely watched

Ollie, Chance, Zorro and Benny have not shown any symptoms of leptospirosis since arriving in New Hampshire from Puerto Rico, but they are being closely watched

Ollie, Chance, Zorro and Benny have not shown any symptoms of leptospirosis since arriving in New Hampshire from Puerto Rico, but they are being closely watched

But standard pre-flight exams do not include tests for leptospirosis. The bacteria can live for years in an animal, and some never show symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear between four and 12 days after exposure.  

The Puerto Rican puppies were under eight weeks old when the arrived in New Hampshire, and Goodwin says that they must have been infected before they got their vaccinations.

Goodwin says that she kept the animals isolated for two nights and took some of the dogs to the vet to be cleared before allowing the foster families to take them home. 

After Tito, got sick, one of the pups that Goodwin was looking after herself developed symptoms. When the vet diagnosed the dog, Chili, with the same thing that had killed Tito, Goodwin put him down.

She has since had three more puppies tested for the leptospirosis. Two were negative, and one was positive, but being treated. The others, she says, are healthy.

‘I’ve very publicly been cleaning up their pee, and no one in my house has had a symptom. I haven’t had a dog with symptoms in my house since Chili who passed away,’ says Goodwin. 

Two of the puppies’ foster families returned the dogs to Goodwin, and she says that a couple of families that had applied to adopt the dogs have backed out, so some puppies are still available.  

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