What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira and affects humans and animals. This bacterium 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 and has been associated with swimming, wading, and whitewater rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers.

The incubation period is 2 days to 4 weeks. The illness lasts from a few days to 3 weeks or longer. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, and may include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or a rash. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases death occurs.

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 by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces, such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin. The disease is not known to be spread from person to person.

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:-

  • Minimize contact with fresh water, mud, and vegetation that might be contaminated with the urine of infected animals, especially rodents.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as waterproof boots or waders, when participating in recreational or work activities that might result in contact with contaminated water.

How to treat leptospirosis?

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



Last revision date: 30 November 2012