Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Leptospira species. There are two types of leptospirosis: acute (acute) and chronic (chronic). Acute leptospirosis occurs when someone becomes infected with the organism while traveling or living abroad. Chronic leptospirosis usually develops within one year after exposure to the organism. Acute leptospirosis is often fatal if not treated promptly.
Acute leptospirosis is spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person. Acute leptospirosis is caused mainly by three species of the organism Leptospira interrogans: L. interrogans (nontyphoidal), L. Hardjoprais, and L.I.
The organism is found in soil, or water contaminated by animal urine. It affects animals and people. Animals can get sick and give the disease to humans. Dogs and rats carry the organism. Most people who become infected with the organism have had close contact with farm animals or their urine.
These include people who work with farm animals and people who have had contact with the urine or body fluids (including blood) of infected animals. People whose jobs bring them into contact with rat-infested areas are also at higher risk.
People who have had close contact with infected rats are most at risk for acute leptospirosis. The disease can also be spread through contaminated water or soil. People who have traveled to areas where the infection is common and who show symptoms of acute leptospirosis should see a doctor immediately.
Symptoms usually begin 3-14 days after infection. They include fever and chills, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some people also have jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
A diagnosis is made by sending a blood sample to a laboratory for testing. A urine test can also be done.
Most people with acute leptospirosis must be treated in the hospital. Antibiotics taken by mouth are usually given for 2-4 weeks. For people with severe symptoms, the antibiotics may be given through an IV in a hospital.
In most people, acute leptospirosis is mild and goes away without treatment. However, in some people it can lead to severe complications or death.
There is no vaccine for leptospirosis.
Doctors can protect themselves by wearing protective clothing, including gloves, mask and goggles, when dealing with patients who might have the disease.
Here are some facts about the disease:
Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria of the species Leptospira, which are rod-shaped and can survive outside the body for days. It is spread through contact with the urine of infected animals or people.
It affects humans and a wide range of domestic and wild animals, especially dogs.
The most common symptoms are: high fever, severe headache, diarrhea, muscle pains, vomiting and jaundice. In severe cases it can also cause kidney failure, meningitis and liver failure.
It is rarely life-threatening and most people make a full recovery with treatment.
In some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, it can cause severe complications or even death.
There is no vaccine for leptospirosis, and the risk of getting it is very low in most parts of the world.
Treatment involves rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
Ribavirin can also be used to treat infection.
There are more than 500 different types of Leptospira, and up to 30 can infect humans.
The most important ones from a human health point of view are: L. interrogans (can cause Weils Disease), L. Canicola (Canicola means dog in Latin), and L. Icterohaemorrhagiae.
Reptiles and plants can also be infected.
The most common way for a person to get infected is by contact with the urine of an infected animal.
It is rare in the United States, but is more common in many parts of the world, particularly areas with large rivers where people go fishing or swimming. It can be spread through urine in swimming pools.
Leptospirosis is diagnosed by testing blood or urine.
Treatment involves staying hydrated and taking antibiotics. If diagnosed early, most people recover within a few weeks.
Leptospirosis is rare in the United States, where about 1,000 cases are reported every year.
Leptospirosis is most commonly found in rats.
It is most common in tropical and subtropical climates, but more cases have been diagnosed in the United States than anywhere else in the world.
The infection can be spread through contact with urine, or by eating food that has come in contact with contaminated soil or water.
It can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby.
Some people get a very mild form of the disease, and do not even know they have it. Others get very sick, and need to be treated in the hospital.
In some cases it can lead to kidney failure and death.
Most people recover completely with treatment, which usually involves taking antibiotics.
In the United States, there are about 1,000 cases of leptospirosis every year.
Most of these occur in Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon.
Leptospirosis is rare in other parts of the world, including Canada.
Most of the cases that do occur in Canada are among people who have recently returned from trips to tropical areas.
It can also be spread through contact with infected farm animals, including pigs and cows. In some parts of the world it can be spread through contact with dogs, which is why it is also called “dog fever.”
Leptospirosis is also called Weils disease, after a German scientist, Alfred Weil, who first identified the bacteria that causes it in the 19th century.
Other names for the infection are acuta febrile syndrome, railway fever, icterohaemorrhagia and Spirohaemobartonella.
Leptospirosis can be spread in contaminated water, through the skin, and even through the air.
It can be diagnosed by testing blood or urine.
Treatment involves rest, staying hydrated, and taking antibiotics.
Most people recover completely with treatment, which can last for several weeks.
A few people die from complications that develop because their kidneys stop working properly.
If you’ve recently returned from travelling to a tropical or subtropical area and you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible:
Unexplained fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, or abdominal pain
Bleeding from the nose or gums
If you have had contact with animal urine, or have been swimming or rafting in areas where the water might be contaminated, you may also need to be tested for leptospirosis.
lepto (lep ˌtoʊ)
A genus of slender, curved, motile spirochetes (family Spirochaetaceae) that occur in fresh water and are the cause of a form of jaundice in humans and animals.
A link to this trivia fact has been sent to your friend’s email address.
Send it along to anyone you think might find it interesting.
Are you a scientist or expert in biology or just have a passion and interest in learning about the world around us?
Join our community and add your knowledge to the Trunk.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Overview of the epidemiology, microbiology, and pathogenesis of Leptospira spp. in humans (R Plank, D Dean – Microbes and infection, 2000 – Elsevier)
- Seroprevalence, risk factors, and rodent reservoirs of leptospirosis in an urban community of Puerto Rico, 2015 (EA Briskin, A Casanovas-Massana… – The Journal of …, 2019 – academic.oup.com)
- A twelve-year study of leptospirosis on Barbados (COR Everard, CN Edwards, JD Everard… – European journal of …, 1995 – Springer)
- Leptospirosis as an animal and public health problem in Latin America and the Caribbean area (B Szyfres – Bulletin of the Pan American Health Organization …, 1976 – iris.paho.org)
- The prevalence of Leptospira among invasive small mammals on Puerto Rican cattle farms (KM Benavidez, T Guerra, M Torres… – PLoS neglected …, 2019 – journals.plos.org)
- Leptospirosis: a zoonotic disease of global importance (…, Peru—United States Leptospirosis Consortium – The Lancet infectious …, 2003 – Elsevier)
- Evaluation of recombinant Leptospira antigen-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays for the serodiagnosis of leptospirosis (B Flannery, D Costa, FP Carvalho… – Journal of clinical …, 2001 – Am Soc Microbiol)
- The protean manifestations of leptospirosis (T Woodward – … on the Leptospiroses, Medical Science Publication, 1953 – books.google.com)
- Leptospirosis outbreak following severe flooding: a rapid assessment and mass prophylaxis campaign; Guyana, January–February 2005 (AM Dechet, M Parsons, M Rambaran… – PLoS …, 2012 – journals.plos.org)