San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Leptospirosis Case Sparks Questions of Zoo Sanitation

A case of Leptospirosis in an employee of the Simón Bolívar Zoo in downtown San José prompted public health officials to demand better conditions for zoo employees and threaten a possible closure of the zoo if improvements aren’t made.

The Ministry of Public Health last week gave zoo officials until Monday to provide employees with gloves, masks and boots for their sanitary protection while working. Ministry inspections revealed that employees did not use such measures.

The order established that the zoo could be closed if officials do not improve the protection of workers and the conditions in which animals live and obtain a sanitary permit from the Health Ministry, the daily La Nación reported.

However, zoo officials Monday appealed the order with the ministry, claiming that they have never had a sanitary permit and, therefore, have the right to not have one, the daily Al Día reported.

Zoo worker Luis Villalobos, 34, who was contaminated with leptospirosis three weeks ago, continues in “delicate condition” in San Juan de Dios Hospital, Al Día reported.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects animals and humans. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting, although sometimes no symptoms are present, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases death occurs.

Cases of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to water, food or soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals, often rats but also including cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, and wild animals. The exposure may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact, particularly the eyes, nose or broken skin.

The Foundation for Zoos (FUNDAZOO), which administrates the zoo, said in a statement it has always kept high standards of hygiene.

Environmentalists who have long criticized the zoo’s conditions for animals (TT, Jan. 28, Feb. 4, 2005) have seized the opportunity to denounce the zoo.

Luis Diego Marín, president of the Association for the Preservation of Wild Flora and Fauna (APREFLOFAS), said that not only are zoo conditions threatening the health of animals, but also humans. He claims the presence of leptospirosis is because of the unhealthy conditions in which animals are kept.


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