What is the truth about leptospirosis vaccination?

Some people may have seen the Telegraph’s article ‘Vets’ vaccine alert after claims of dog deaths’ published earlier this week and will understandably be worried about the implications.  There are some factual errors in the report which in itself has potentially severe implications for pet and human health.WSAVA logoThis includes the statements “The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is urging owners not to use Nobivac L4 vaccine on puppies under 12 weeks old” which is the WSAVA say is “blatantly untrue“.  The main case study in the article regarding a dog dying of meningitis after vaccination is also misleading. Bichon FriseSmall dogs are more predisposed to developing an autoimmune meningitis which can occur at any time either with no apparent cause or with a potential trigger in some cases.  This trigger can be another disease or illness, or medication of any type, which can include vaccination.  It is a symptom of an underlying immune defect so although very occasionally a vaccination can be a trigger factor, it is not the only cause and it is only one of many potential triggers in these dogs.

The number of potential adverse reactions (which can range from mild to severe) reported to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) from Nobivac L4 is 6 for every 10,000 doses sold (0.064%).

BSAVAThe article also claims that leptospirosis is not recommended as a core vaccination.  While this is true to some extent as the WSAVA do not classify it as a core vaccination (meaning a vaccination which should be given to every dog worldwide), the prevalence of the disease in the UK has led to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) classifying it as a core vaccination in this country (see their position statement).

Woman sitting with white German Shepherd in fieldLeptospirosis is a potentially fatal disease which affects both dogs and humans (it is zoonotic).  It most commonly causes liver and kidney failure.

The vaccination against 2 strains of Leptospirosis (Leptospira interrogans Serogroup Icterohaemorrhagiae and L. interrogans Serogroup Canicola) has been around for several years.  The new vaccinations against 4 strains now vaccinate against L. interrogans Serogroup Australis and L. kirschneri serogroup Grippotyphosa in addition.  There are now 3 of these vaccinations on the market in the UK, Nobivac made by MSD (mentioned in the Telegraph article), Versican Plus made by Zoetis and Canigen made by Virbac.  Different veterinary practices will use different brands but they will all work in a similar way.  The two new strains are most prevalent in continental Europe but with increased animal and human movement are spreading towards the UK which is why the 4 strain vaccination has been made available.




The European consensus statement on leptospirosis in dogs and cats states that:

“Given the widespread recognition of leptospirosis in European dogs that have been vaccinated with bivalent vaccines, the use of quadrivalent vaccines is recommended in an attempt to increase the spectrum of protection.
There is some debate as to whether vaccines containing Leptospira spp. antigens should be considered core or non-core. In fact, they should be classified as non-core vaccines as the term “core” implies that all dogs, independent of their lifestyle, need to be vaccinated. However, the number of dogs that never have access to wildlife, environmental water sources and potentially contaminated areas is probably very small. It should also be kept in mind that leptospirosis has been diagnosed in urban dogs with no apparent history of access to wildlife or water sources. Exposure to the urine of rodents or other wildlife that visit urban areas during the night might explain this phenomenon. All dogs “at risk” should be regularly vaccinated, as leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease and the disease in dogs can be severe and fatal if untreated.
After a basic vaccination with two applications three to four weeks apart, annual revaccination is recommended for all at-risk dogs, regardless of the breed.”

Labrador puppiesIn summary, vaccination is a safe way to protect against potentially fatal diseases which can affect both animals and humans.  While there is always a risk of an individual having a bad reaction the benefit of the vaccination outweighs this.  If your dog has no access to a potentially contaminated site, you could choose not to vaccinate against leptospirosis as the risk of exposure would be very low (although as this would basically mean he has no access to the outside world you may need to consider whether you are meeting his welfare needs).  If you suspect your dog may have had a bad reaction (this includes lack of efficacy) to any medication, including vaccination, you should report it to your vet who should file a Suspected Adverse Reaction Report.



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