Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is spread from animals to human beings. It is caused by a bacterium Leptospira interrogans, which occurs more commonly in tropical climates. The disease is more common in the rural areas of most countries where people come into contact with animals regularly.
The two forms of leptospirosis are – Weil's disease (spread from rodents to humans) and Hardjo form (spread from cattle to humans).
How is it caused?
The disease is transmitted by infected rodents and other animals who pass the bacteria in their urine. These bacteria can live for a long time in the soil, fresh water and vegetation. Some animals like cattle, pigs, horses, dogs may become sick after infection, but some may not show any symptoms. The disease is contracted by humans when they come into contact with the infected soil or water. The bacteria enter the body through broken skin, mucous membranes or conjuctivae. It is not transmitted from person to person but can be contracted by many people at the same time due to consumption of contaminated food.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of leptospirosis resemble the symptoms of many other diseases. The common symptoms include fever, headache, chills, nausea and vomiting. There may be yellowing of the eyes and skin. In severe cases, there may be liver damage, kidney failure and internal bleeding. Most severe cases of leptospirosis have to be hospitalised.
The infected individual may not show any symptoms initially as the incubation time (the time between the infection and manifestation of symptoms) is about 2-4 weeks. The illness usually begins abruptly with flu-like symptoms. It may also occur in separate stages. The person may recover for a while and the symptoms may start again later. Even after treatment, the patient may feel weak for a long time and total recovery may take several months.
What is the treatment?
The diagnosis of the disease is made by a special blood test that confirms the presence of the causal bacterium. Leptospirosis is commonly treated with antibiotics like Penicillin, which are given early in the course of the disease. In severe cases, the medication may have to be injected into the vein for more effective and quick action. The treatment should be started as soon as the condition is diagnosed to prevent worsening of the symptoms.
Can it be prevented?
Leptospirosis can only be prevented by taking certain precautions:
Care should be taken while wading in water that may be contaminated. People who come into contact with possibly contaminated vegetation or soil should take care that all wounds are covered.
Proper protective clothing like water proof boots and gloves must be worn during the time of contact with the sources of infection. Travelers going to leptospirosis-prone areas should take preventive antibiotics after consulting a doctor, before and during the trip to reduce the risk of contracting the disease.