Leptospirosis is a rare, but potentially serious, bacterial infection. It is most common in warm, tropical environments, and it spreads easily.
Leptospirosis is caused by specific bacteria resulting from contact with fresh water, wet or dampened soil, or vegetation that has been soiled by urine from an infected animal.
When contact is made with the contaminated material, the bacteria enter the body through open sores or wounds in the skin, or through mucous membranes. When the bacteria has entered the body, it flows into the bloodstream and throughout the body, causing infection.
The following people are at an increased risk of developing leptospirosis:
- Swimmers in lakes, rivers, and streams
- Workers in flood plains
- Workers in wet agricultural settings
- People who have pets, particularly dogs or livestock
- People who work with the land, including farmers, ranchers, loggers, and rice-field workers
- People who work with animals, including veterinarians
Symptoms typically appear about 10 days after infection and may include one or more of the following:
- Sudden fever, chills, pain, and headache
- Dry cough
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Aching joints
- Sore throat
- Painful bones
- Abdominal pain
- Rigid muscles
- Rash on the skin
- Yellow skin and eyes
- Reduced urine output
- Neck stiffness
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Cultures or other laboratory tests
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include antibiotics. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.
To help reduce your chances of getting leptospirosis:
- Reduce contact with soil, vegetation, and water that could possibly be contaminated with infected animal urine, including urine from rodents.
- If working with materials that could potentially be contaminated, wear protective clothing that covers the skin, including waterproof boots or waders.
- If working in an especially high-risk area, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
- David L. Horn, MD
- Reviewed: 05/2016
- Updated: 06/19/2014
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