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Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis

5 April 2017

Causative agent

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira and affects humans and animals. This bacterium is common worldwide, especially in tropical areas 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. 

Clinical features

Common symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting, while jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or rash may also occur.  If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop potentially fatal infections of kidney, liver, brain, lung or heart and even death.

Mode of transmission

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.

High risk groups

People who work outdoors or with animals and people who participate in outdoor water sports such as swimming and wading in contaminated lakes and rivers have higher risks for the disease.

Incubation period

The incubation period is usually 5 - 14 days, with a range of 2 - 30 days.

Management

Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics.

Prevention

  • 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.
  • Wash or shower after exposure to contaminated water or soil.
  • Always clean any wounds as soon as possible and cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof dressings.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing or footwear when participating in recreational or work activities near soil or water that may be contaminated with animal urine.
  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water after handling the pets or animals, and disinfect contaminated areas.
  • Drink only boiled water from the mains or bottled drinks from reliable sources.
  • Travellers can contract the disease through outdoor water sports. Risk of infection can be minimised by limiting exposure to water sources, such as rivers, ponds or lakes that might be contaminated with the urine of infected animals and avoiding swimming or wading in potentially contaminated water.

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