Leptospirosis (lepto) is an infection caused by bacteria from the genus Leptospira. It can infect both humans and animals. The most common route of infection is through contact of broken skin or the mucous membranes (nose, mouth, eyes) with contaminated water. Water becomes contaminated by the urine of infected domestic or wild animals or people. People who come in contact with urine or tissues of infected animals can also contract the infection. Farmers, sewer workers, veterinarians, and fish workers can be exposed at work. In infected areas, the disease is a recreational hazard to bathers, campers, hunters, and fishing enthusiasts.
The time between a person’s exposure to the bacteria and becoming sick can range from two days to four weeks. 'Many people show no signs of infection, others have fever, headache, chills, red eyes, and sore muscles. Severe infections result in anemia, jaundice, liver failure, kidney failure, meningitis, and respiratory distress. Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin. These should be given early in the disease. Intravenous antibiotics may be needed for persons with more severe symptoms.
The chances of getting leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by avoiding swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine. People whose job or recreational activities exposes them to contaminated water or soil should wear protective clothing or footwear. Because rodents are common carriers of Leptospira, proper control of rodents around homes and buildings is important. Keep your dogs vaccination against leptospirosis current to reduce the potential for your dog to become infected and pass the infection to you.
Please contact your healthcare provider or local health department for more information.