A Leptospira infection is caused by the bacteria Leptospira.
We’ve put together this short guide of key information, with links for further guidance.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Leptospira, and can be known as Weil’s disease in more serious cases. The infection is spread through the urine of infected animals, most commonly rats, mice, cows, and pigs, contact of which can happen through stagnant freshwater - such as rivers, canals, or floodwaters - or infected soil. According to the Health Protection Agency, less than 40 cases of Leptospirosis are reported, per year, in humans across England and Wales. Although it’s rare to become infected in the UK, it’s still important to take preventative measures.
signs & symptoms
What are the symptoms of Leptospirosis?
Some infected people may not develop signs of being ill and general symptoms of Leptospirosis can often be mistaken for other diseases. These include:
A high temperature of 38°C or above
Aching muscles and joints
Nausea or vomiting
A loss of appetite
However, urgent medical attention should be sought if a person is experiencing:
Shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Swollen ankles, feet, or hands
How to prevent Leptospirosis?
Should people expect to come into contact with untreated water such as rivers, canals, or floodwaters, the risk of infection can be significantly reduced by taking the following precautions:
Wearing personal protective equipment
Covering open wound, like cuts and scratches, with waterproof plasters
Washing thoroughly and quickly upon leaving the water
Cleaning any open wounds that were obtained whilst in the water
Water from these areas should not be drunk, unless boiled first. And although rarely caught from pets, people should also take the precaution to check their pet dogs are vaccinated against Leptospirosis (there isn’t a vaccine available for humans).
impact & treatment
What are the treatment options?
Antibiotics are used in the treatment of the early stages of Leptospirosis, typically doxycycline or penicillin. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to relieve any of the symptoms of an infection, such as aches, pains, or a fever. Nine out of ten people with a mild form of Leptospirosis can recover fully within two to six weeks, although this can extend up to three months.
More severe infections need to be treated in a hospital, as the risks can include kidney, liver, heart or respiratory failure. Death can occur due to internal bleeding or complications with the lungs or kidneys.
Are there any vulnerable groups?
People who would find the general symptoms of Leptospirosis hard to go through (such as pregnant women, those who are 65 years or older, or those with a weakened immune system), can be considered vulnerable.
However, because coming into contact with the bacteria Leptospira is only likely in certain circumstances, it makes the risk of developing an infection greater in specific groups of people. These include:
Rodent control workers
Those involved in watersports, such as fishing, diving, or canoeing, are also more likely to be at risk.
What is the incubation period?
Symptoms of Leptospirosis can occur between 3 and 21 days from the moment of infection.
Leptospirosis can occur in two phases. The first being more general symptoms leading the infected person to recover for a period before becoming ill again. Should a second phase happen, it will be more severe and could lead to meningitis or kidney or liver failure.
advice & guidance
Where to find more information?
There are many useful resources available on both Leptospirosis and the Leptospira bacteria. The below websites provide advice and information on avoiding the bacteria, spotting symptoms, and how to treat an infection.
Although mild cases can be treated relatively simply, Leptospirosis can be life-threatening to people infected. Managing the risk comes with cleanliness and caution, such as avoiding freshwater lakes and canals, wearing PPE, and washing thoroughly following contact with stagnant water.
Download our infographic to help us raise awareness and prevent the spread of Leptospirosis.