By Jonas Wilson, Ing. Med.
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterial genus Leptospira. It can infect both humans and animals. About 9 in every 10 persons affected will experience mild flu-like symptoms, which include headache, fever, and muscle pains.
Approximately 10% of cases may progress to a more severe form of leptospirosis known as Weil’s disease. This severe presentation is characterized by internal bleeding and multiple organ failure, which is life threatening.
It is one of the most common infectious diseases that can be transmitted naturally to humans from animals. Sources of infection are the urine or urine-contaminated media (e.g., water, food, and soil) of infected animals, such as rodents, cattle, cats, dogs, and wild animals. The risk of contracting the disease in some countries, for example, the UK, is very low and drastic measures to avoid exposure are not necessarily needed. However, this is not the case in other countries, such as those in tropical or temperate regions, where there are high prevalence rates, so precaution must be exercised.
Who is at Risk?
The disease is typically an occupational hazard for those who are employed in sectors that are outdoors or require animal contact. The people include miners, farmers, sewer maintenance workers, butchers, veterinarians, military personnel, and fishermen. Leptospirosis is also possible to contract from swimming, kayaking, wading, and rafting in contaminated rivers, lakes, and ponds. Thus, it is a recreational hazard in addition to being an occupational one. As such, it is imperative that persons participating in outdoor activities, such as camping or sporting events, are aware of potential exposure risks. This is especially important in areas where there are known cases of infection present.
What can be done?
It goes without saying that one can reduce the risk of acquiring the disease by not swimming or undergoing any other activity in water that may be contaminated with animal urine. Furthermore, contact with infected and/or potentially infected animals should be avoided by all means necessary. Persons, who for occupational or recreational reasons are at risk, may wear protective clothing when coming into contact with potentially contaminated animals, water, soil, or other contaminated media. Moreover, people can further protect themselves by thoroughly cleaning and dressing open wounds.
If domesticated animals and pets are infected, they may show varying and non-specific signs and symptoms. To prevent infection in the first instance, it is crucial to maintain strict rodent control of the surroundings, since these animals are key players in spreading bacteria that cause the disease. In addition to pest control, pets may also be vaccinated against leptospirosis, but this gives no guarantee of full protection, since there are many different strains.
Owners can take measures to prevent themselves and others in the household from becoming infected from a sick pet by avoiding animal urine, blood, or other bodily fluids and wearing protective gear when having to take care of the pet and areas where it may have urinated. Household bleach is a great cleaning solution and washing hands after handling the pet is always a must .
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Sep 22, 2016