What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is rare in some parts of the world but is quite common in countries like India. The disease is caused by bacteria from the genus Leptospira and affects humans as well as animals. While some animals may be affected and symptomatic, in most cases these animals act as carriers and are asymptomatic. In most cases, the disease is not a life-threatening one.
Signs and Symptoms
Usually, leptospirosis symptoms begin appearing within two weeks (the bacterium has an incubation period of 2-30 days). However, once the symptoms start showing, the disease hits fast. Common leptospirosis signs and symptoms observed are:
- High fever that can rise as high as 104 F
- Severe muscle ache
- Skin rash
- Redness in the eyes
While these leptospirosis signs and symptoms indicate a mild form of the disease, around 10% of the people go on to develop vital organ failure involving kidneys and the liver or develop meningitis. In this case, it can be fatal.
Leptospirosis is caused by the Leptospira interrogans bacterium. Many animals carry this bacterium in their liver or kidneys, and it finds its way into the soil via their urine. The bacteria can live in the soil for months. Common animals which carry this bacteria include bats, mice, rats, horses, cows, pigs, and buffaloes.
Leptospirosis occurs more commonly in the tropical climate but has also shown a predilection of occurrence in the poorer parts of urban cities that have improper hygiene conditions.
Leptospirosis transmission occurs through the urine of animals that harbour Leptospira bacteria in their liver and kidneys. When rodents and other cattle with the bacteria urinate, these Leptospira bacteria are released into the soil and can stay there for months on end. When humans come in contact with this contaminated soil, the bacteria are transmitted to them and result in leptospirosis. Other common modes of leptospirosis transmission are:
- Consuming contaminated water
- Exposing wounds or cuts to contaminated water or soil
- Hands, eyes, mouth or nose coming in contact with contaminated water or soil
- Coming in contact with the blood of an animal infected by the virus (rare)
The transmission of leptospira bacteria is rare between humans, but if it occurs, it usually happens via sexual intercourse or breastfeeding.
The first step in leptospirosis treatment is diagnosing leptospirosis. Leptospirosis, in its early stages, is difficult to diagnose as its symptoms resemble any other flu. If your doctor suspects leptospirosis based on your travel history, they may ask you to undergo blood and urine tests for confirmation.
Leptospirosis treatment for mild cases is done by prescribing antibiotics like doxycycline or penicillin. In slightly severe cases, you may be admitted to the hospital wherein antibiotics will be administered to you intravenously. In instances where leptospirosis affects the kidneys, dialysis may be required. Your doctor may take necessary steps to ensure your body is well-hydrated and your nutrient intake is optimal. Women who are infected by the bacterium during pregnancy require hospital monitoring.
Leptospirosis can be prevented. Some common measures recommended for preventing leptospirosis are:
- Avoid high-risk areas
- Cover your wounds and cuts if you work in a high-risk area with potential exposure of bacteria through animals.
- Control rodent population
- Maintain good hand hygiene after touching animals
- Do not touch dead animals with bare hands. If you do, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly.
- Avoid walking or wading through floodwater, rivers, or streams that can be infected with leptospira bacteria.
- Make sure your pet animals are vaccinated against the bacteria.
Leptospirosis is a water-borne disease that can be cured. If you suspect you have one or more symptoms and signs of the disease, contact your doctor immediately.