SINGAPORE: One of the 18 suspected cases of canine leptospirosis has tested positive for the bacterial disease, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority in an update on Wednesday (Jul 20) evening.
Channel NewsAsia understands test results for the other 17 are pending.
The dog that tested positive had been at Sunny Heights, the dog daycare centre in Bukit Timah at the centre of the outbreak, confirmed the company's head of operations Derrick Tan.
Sunny Heights was issued an isolation order after a spike in the number of dogs suspected of suffering from leptospirosis. Under the order, dogs are prohibited from entering or leaving the premises without AVA's authorisation.
Twelve of the 18 suspected cases of leptospirosis have been linked with Sunny Heights. In its latest update, AVA said that five of these 12 cases were fatal.
AVA added that, of the six suspected cases not associated with Sunny Heights, two were fatal.
Pending the test results of the other suspected cases, AVA cautioned that, due to currently available test methods, a negative laboratory test result "may not indicate that an animal is not infected". Other information such as clinical signs, history and antibody levels also have to be taken into consideration, it said.
MORE LEPTOSPIROSIS CASES THIS YEAR
Sunny Heights was issued an isolation order by the AVA on Jul 13, after authorities identified a spike in the number of suspected leptospirosis cases this year. Authorities said two leptospirosis cases in dogs were reported in 2015, while none were reported in 2014.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can affect both animals and humans. It can be transmitted to humans and animals through cuts and abrasions of the skin, or through mucous membranes, with water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. While many wild and domestic animals can be infected and act as a source of infection, rodents are the primary source of infection to human beings.
As of last Wednesday, 14 human cases of leptospirosis have been reported to MOH this year. This included one person whose family dog had previously been at Sunny Heights. Between 2012 and 2015, about 20 to 30 human cases were reported annually.
As part of the isolation order, authorities said the centre is required to conduct a thorough cleaning and disinfection of its premises. NEA conducted an inspection last Tuesday at the centre and its vicinity, including a pet cafe, and did not detect any signs of rat activity, authorities said.
AVA said it has taken samples from the environment and from the dogs which are still on its premises for laboratory testing. Meanwhile, it said it is working with Sunny Heights to "put in place control and management measures to mitigate the risk of future cases". AVA said it would review and lift the isolation order after its investigation is complete.
Mr Tan said samples of the dogs on its premises were taken on Monday (Jul 19). He said there are more than 20 dogs on its premises, including about 18 dogs that are currently boarding as the owners are currently overseas.
The swimming pool at the Sunny Heights Dog Daycare Centre was drained after leptospirosis cases were brought to its attention. (Photo: Monica Kotwani)
Mr Tan told Channel NewsAsia that the issue came to the centre's attention at the end of June, after a dog owner called him to say his pet had contracted leptospirosis and had to be put down.
"This is when we started to alert our daycare dog owners to take extra precautions on the signs and symptoms that could be associated with leptospirosis," he said.
He said the centre has been closed since Jul 2, before AVA issued the isolation order. The centre's swimming pool has been drained of water, and Mr Tan said the cleaning of the premises has been stepped up according to guidelines issued by authorities.
The co-owner of Ah B, a cafe on the premises, confirmed that an NEA officer conducted a thorough check of its premises, including its false ceilings. The co-owner, who wanted to be known only as Joel, said the officer did not provide a reason, saying that NEA was doing so as part of "routine checks". She said the cafe has stepped up its cleaning practices and now washes its indoor and outdoor areas twice a day, up from once a day. On weekends, its premises are now cleaned three times a day.
Symptoms of the disease in dogs include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice and failure to produce urine. Infected dogs may be treated with antibiotics but may succumb to the infection due to acute renal failure. Dogs showing these clinical signs, and are known to have been exposed to infected animals should seek veterinary treatment immediately.
In humans, symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, decreased appetite, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and rash. Without treatment, leptospirosis may be fatal.
TWO OF THREE DOGS DIED OF LEPTOSPIROSIS: OWNER
A dog owner who asked to remain anonymous said she had to put down two of her three dogs in a span of five weeks after both contracted the disease. Her first dog fell ill towards the end of May, and stopped eating, drinking and responding when called. The dog was hospitalised for three days, after which it was put down. The owner's second dog, although appearing its "usual self", was not drinking as much as normal. The dog was also hospitalised and put down as it was "the most humane thing to do", the woman told Channel NewsAsia.
"Leptospirosis is a disease that slowly shuts down their immune system, mainly first affecting the kidney and liver causing them to not be able to pee. As it progresses, it affects their immune system more. As tough as it is, you will do anything for your dog to not see it suffer, even if that means letting them go," she said. Her third dog is currently on antibiotics.
The dogs had been to Sunny Heights for years without any prior incidents, and were up to date with their annual vaccinations, she said.
LEPTOSPIROSIS CONCERNS AT GREEN CORRIDOR
The dog owner Channel NewsAsia spoke with said her dogs' vet had asked her if they had been to the Green Corridor - a tract of former railway land - before they contracted the disease.
She said that she had never walked her dogs at the Green Corridor.
In multiple posts on Facebook, dog owners had raised concerns that their pets could have contracted the disease at the Green Corridor.
AVA said it "cannot be definitively established" that the dogs contracted leptospirosis at the Green Corridor. "The leptospira bacteria can survive in soil, mud and stagnant water contaminated with urine from infected animals, and this can occur within or outside the Green Corridor."
PROTECTION AGAINST THE DISEASE
To help protect against leptospirosis infection, AVA advised dog owners to keep their dogs up to date with their vaccinations. The agency added that although the vaccine does not provide 100 per cent protection, it can reduce the chance of the dog being infected, and help prevent the shedding of bacteria in the dog’s urine.
It also advised dog owners to reduce their dogs’ exposure to water or soil that may be contaminated, such as areas that are home to small mammals such as bats, rats and other rodents, which are all potential carriers of the bacteria.
AVA said that people with pets that have been diagnosed with leptospirosis should avoid handling or contact with urine, blood or tissues. If necessary, protective coverings such as gloves should be worn.
Owners should also wash their hands with soap after handling the pet or anything that might have the pet's excrement on it. Surfaces that may be contaminated or contain urine from an infected pet should be cleaned using antibacterial cleaning solutions or household bleach.
Those who develop symptoms are advised to seek medical attention, AVA said. They should also practice good personal hygiene at all times, especially after handling animals, or if they are in contact with soil or water that may be contaminated by animal urine.