Leptospirosis

(Weil's Disease; Icterohemorrhagic Fever; Swineherd's Disease; Rice-Field Fever; Cane-Cutter Fever; Swamp Fever; Mud Fever; Hemorrhagic Jaundice; Stuttgart Disease; Canicola Fever)

How to Say It: lep-to-spy-RO-sis

Definition

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria. It can be mild or severe. Severe cases can lead to organ damage and even death.

Causes

Certain bacteria cause the infection. It is spread from the urine of infected animals. The urine gets into water, soil, and plants. The bacteria gets into the body from direct contact. This means from:

  • Cuts in the skin
  • The mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Drinking contaminated water

Risk Factors

Leptospirosis is found all over the world. It is most common in tropical places.

The risk is higher for those who have contact with:

  • Infected animals
  • Contaminated soil or water, such as with:
    • Farming
    • Sewer work
    • Working in the military
    • Mining
    • Swimming or wading
    • Boating, canoeing, or kayaking
    • Camping

Symptoms

Some people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Belly pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Red eyes
  • Rash
  • Dry cough
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes— jaundice

Rarely, it can lead to problems with the lungs and kidneys.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, health, and travel history. A physical exam may be done. Blood and urine tests may be done to check for infection or other problems.

Other tests may be done to check for organ damage.

Treatment

The infection is treated with antibiotics.

In rare but serious cases, treatment may be needed to support organ function.

Prevention

The risk of infection can be lowered by:

  • Avoiding soil, plants, or water where animals pass urine
  • Wearing protective gloves and waterproof boots
  • Using boiled or bottled water

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov
World Health Organization
http://www.who.int

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca

References:

Leptospirosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Leptospirosis. EBSCO DynaMed . Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/results?q=Leptospirosis&lang=en. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Leptospirosis (Weil's disease). New York State Department of Health website. Available at: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/leptospirosis/fact_sheet.htm. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Mousavi S, Nasera M, et al. Current advances in urban leptospirosis diagnosis. Reviews in Medical Microbiology. 2017;28 (3):119-123.
Last reviewed September 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/29/2021

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