Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is more common in tropical areas of the world.

Globally, it is estimated that 7-10 million people get leptospirosis every year. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many people die from leptospirosis because many cases occur in parts of the developing world where causes of death are not routinely reported.

It is anticipated that the number of cases of leptospirosis will continue to increase in the future as a result of global warming and the expected increase in flooding.

Leptospirosis is a type of bacterial infection spread by animals. It is caused by a strain of bacteria called leptospira.

In 90% of cases, leptospirosis only causes mild flu-like symptoms, such as headache, chills and muscle pain.

Weil’s Disease or Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira sp bacteria which is a substance hazardous to health. If we identify that rats or mice are present on site it would be advisable to know what can be done in terms of prevention of rodent activity.

Treatment for this disease is via intravenous antibiotics administered in hospital and there is no human vaccine available.

There are many species / strains of Leptospira and to have a universal vaccination for all of them would probably be difficult.

Symptoms: The start of Weil’s Disease is similar to that of flu for the first 3-4 days. It then progresses to meningitis symptoms during days 6-7. Around 8-10 days the kidneys begin to fail, and jaundice progresses. The other organs (pancreas, liver, intestines) then begin to fail and death is eventually caused by heart failure.

Most cases are reportedly in the water leisure and construction industries.

The bacteria: Leptospira can survive in water for extended periods (several weeks) and even in waterlogged areas such as a river bank. The bacteria harbours in rodents (note ‘rodents’, not just rats, as mice can carry Leptospira too) in the kidneys and therefore bladder, hence the risk associated with rodent urine. Leptospira can survive in rodent urine for several days. Leptospira enters humans via mucous membranes and ingestion, as well as through cuts / breaks in the skin. There is a chance of entry via the route of a rodent bite and may be linked to rodent grooming behaviour. If the rodent had recently groomed itself and then bitten someone it could transmit Leptospira via urine in this alternate way – but clearly chances of this are decreased compared with other routes of entry into the human body.

Control the risk: The old adage applies, control the rodents equals control the disease. We use a biocide disinfectant tgo help control the problems, both airborne and surface.

To further minimise contact is to avoid contaminated water sources. (e.g. swimming or undertaking water sports in an area of known rat activity).  

It’s also important not to drink from anywhere but a clean running water source suitable for drinking! Regarding protecting ourselves, now that we aren’t swimming or drinking contaminated water sources, we must protect any cuts, wounds, skin grazes, abrasion, scratches or any other break in the skin. This is best achieved by wearing waterproof dressings / plasters and our trusty nitrile gloves (remembering to replace them frequently).

When protecting our hands from contact, hand hygiene is paramount. We should be doing the following:

Avoid hand to mouth contact.

Wash hands after removal of gloves

Wash hands on a regular basis

Follow hand wash procedure using detergent (suitable soap) and clean running water. Soap should remain in contact with the skin for a minimum of 30 seconds.

Wash any cuts or grazes immediately with soap and clean running water.