What is Leptospirosis?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Rats can be infected by -- and spread -- the Leptospira bacteria.
Rats can be infected by -- and spread -- the Leptospira bacteria.

Leptospirosis is a disease that is caused by bacteria. This disease can affect both humans and animals. A person may become infected with the bacteria through direct or indirect contact with an infected animal. It is generally understood that humans do not spread the disease to other humans.

Often, leptospirosis is caused when a person comes into contact with water that is contaminated with infected animal urine. People can also be susceptible to the bacteria through contaminated soil, food, or if the bacteria makes contact with the eyes, nose, or broken skin. Some occupations may increase the risk of contracting leptospirosis, such as slaughterhouse workers, veterinarians, and sewer workers. People are also susceptible to the disease through their pets, livestock, or rodents.

Veterinarians might be at greater risk of leptospirosis.
Veterinarians might be at greater risk of leptospirosis.

The incubation period of this disease, or how long it will take to get sick after being infected, is typically about two to four weeks. Frequently, the first symptoms a patient will notice are fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Muscle aches, headache, and chills may also occur. Less common symptoms may include skin rash, abdominal pain, and abnormal lung noises.

The second phase of leptospirosis can lead to kidney or liver failure, and require dialysis.
The second phase of leptospirosis can lead to kidney or liver failure, and require dialysis.

Sometimes, leptospirosis may occur in two phases, meaning a patient may temporarily recover, then become sick again. If this occurs, the second phase is typically more severe, and may lead to serious complications, such as liver or kidney failure. It may also result in meningitis, which is a swelling of the brain’s membranes.

Diagnosing leptospirosis is relatively simple. The doctor will analyze a blood sample. He may also analyze a urine sample. After a diagnosis is made prompt treatment is essential, otherwise recovery may take months. Without treatment, complications from this disease, such as kidney failure, may also be life-threatening.

Fever, vomiting, and chills are frequently the initial symptoms of leptospirosis.
Fever, vomiting, and chills are frequently the initial symptoms of leptospirosis.

To treat leptospirosis, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics, such as penicillin or doxycycline. People with a severe case of the illness may require antibiotics given intravenously (IV), or through a vein. Patients should inform their doctor of any other medications, medical conditions, or allergies they may have before taking any drugs. If a patient suffers from complications due to the disease, they may require additional treatment. For example, kidney damage may require dialysis, or artificial blood filtering.

Sewer workers have an increased risk of contracting leptospirosis.
Sewer workers have an increased risk of contracting leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a potentially dangerous disease. Steps can be taken to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the disease. If a person’s occupation or recreation may expose him to contaminated soil or water, he should wear protective footwear and clothing. People may also reduce their risk by not swimming in water that may be contaminated with animal urine.

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    • Rats can be infected by -- and spread -- the Leptospira bacteria.
      Rats can be infected by -- and spread -- the Leptospira bacteria.
    • Veterinarians might be at greater risk of leptospirosis.
      Veterinarians might be at greater risk of leptospirosis.
    • The second phase of leptospirosis can lead to kidney or liver failure, and require dialysis.
      The second phase of leptospirosis can lead to kidney or liver failure, and require dialysis.
    • Fever, vomiting, and chills are frequently the initial symptoms of leptospirosis.
      Fever, vomiting, and chills are frequently the initial symptoms of leptospirosis.
    • Sewer workers have an increased risk of contracting leptospirosis.
      Sewer workers have an increased risk of contracting leptospirosis.