Leptospirosis is a lethal bacterial infection that can be acquired through contact of the urine of an infected animal. It is cause by Leptospira interrogans, thus the name leptospirosis. The infection is serious; treatment must be given upon diagnosis or the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory complications leading to death.
People frequently exposed to animals like farmers, veterinarians, slaughterhouse workers, pet shop workers, sewer workers, etc. are at high risk of developing leptospirosis. Outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, kayaking, swimming, trail biking, and other water sports also expose people to possible Leptospira infected waters.
People get leptospirosis from coming in contact with water containing urine of infected animals. The bacteria could enter in open wounds, abraded skin, or the mucosal area like eyes, nose, and throat. In tropical countries, leptospirosis outbreak is a common occurrence during flooding when people wade through infected flood waters. Human to human transmission of leptospirosis has not been reported so far. Household pests such as rats and even squirrels are a very probable carrier of the bacteria inside the house. Proper care is needed when cleaning the urine and feces of these animals.
The symptoms of leptospirosis appear 2 to 25 days after the bacteria has entered the body. Early leptospirosis infection manifests as headache, muscle ache, light sensitivity, chills, and fever. The symptoms may seem to go away by the fifth to ninth day and then recurs more violently after few days. High fever, stiff neck, abdominal pain, conjunctivitis, and meningitis occur. In severe cases, patients will show signs of the Weil’s syndrome such as kidney and liver failure, and cardiovascular problems may also occur.
If the patient show signs of severe leptospirosis, the infection has become urgent and recovery may be difficult. That is why hospitalization is needed at the early signs of leptospirosis to prevent the development of complications.
A high dose of antibiotics such as doxycycline and penicillin based antibiotics are needed to combat early onset of leptospirosis. The infection is an emergency case so that all leptospirosis patients need hospital care like supportive treatment, intravenous fluid, and a course of antibiotics. If complications occur, intensive care is needed to monitor signs of kidney and liver failure as well as signs of septic shock. If kidney and liver functions are impaired, the patient may need to undergo dialysis and whole blood or platelets transfusion to improve clotting.
Leptospirosis can be prevented by avoiding exposure to contaminated water bodies. Particularly in the tropics where flooding is common, as much as possible wading in flood waters must be avoided. If it cannot be avoided, wearing protective clothing and footwear is advised to minimize exposure to contaminated water. A prophylactic or preventative dose of doxycycline can also help in preventing leptospirosis. People travelling to areas with a high leptospirosis incidence are advised to talk to their doctor about it.