Travel Health Service Leptospirosis
Travel related diseases


What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira and affects humans and animals. Leptospira is common worldwide, especially in tropical countries with heavy rainfall, and can live for a long time in fresh water, damp soil, vegetation, and mud. Flooding after heavy rainfall helps spread the bacteria in the environment.

It is an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with animals. It is a recreational hazard for campers or those who participate in outdoor water sports in contaminated lakes or rivers such as swimming, wading, and whitewater rafting.

The incubation period is usually 5 to 14 days, with a range of 2 to 30 days. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, and may also include jaundice (yellowish discoloration of skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or rash. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop potentially fatal infections of the kidneys, liver, brain, lungs or heart and even death.

What is the route of transmission for leptospirosis?

Humans become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from infected animals, especially rodents. This may happen through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces, such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin or by swallowing contaminated food or water. The disease can also be transmitted through rodent bites. Person-to-person transmission is rare.

How to prevent leptospirosis?

Travellers could acquire the disease from outdoor sports activities in tropical countries. They can reduce the risk by adopting the following:-

  • Avoid contact with fresh water, soil, and vegetation that might be contaminated with the urine of infected animals, especially rodents. Never touch a dead animal with bare hands.

  • Avoid swimming or wading in potentially contaminated water.

  • Wash or shower after exposure to contaminated water or soil.

  • Clean wound immediately and cover properly with waterproof adhesive dressings until healed.

  • Wear appropriate -protective clothing or footwear , when participating in recreational or work activities that might result in contact with contaminated soil or water.

  • Drink only boiled water from the mains or bottled drinks from reliable sources.

How to treat leptospirosis?

The disease can be treated with antibiotics. Treatment should be started as soon as possible. Severely ill persons might need intravenous antibiotic treatment and other supportive care.