What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Leptospira.
Where are the bacteria found?
The bacterium are found primarily in wild and domestic animals.
How are the bacteria spread?
Humans become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from infected animals. This may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water, through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin. The disease is not known to be spread from person-to-person.
Who gets leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is primarily an occupational disease that affects farmers, sewer workers, or others who have contact with animals (especially rats, dogs, and livestock). It also affects those who participate in outdoor sports in contaminated areas and has been associated with swimming in contaminated lakes and rivers.
What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?
The symptoms of leptospirosis include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases, death occurs.
How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
The incubation period is usually 10 days with a range of 4 to 19 days.
Does past infection with leptospirosis make a person immune?
There are several strains of the organism. Infection with one strain usually provides immunity to that organism but not to other strains.
What is the treatment for leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin, which should be given early in the course of the disease. Intravenous antibiotics may be required for persons with more severe symptoms.
What can be done to prevent the spread of leptospirosis?
The risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by not swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine. Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated water or soil because of their job or recreational activities.
This fact sheet is for informational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you think that you may have this infection, or have questions about the disease described above, you should consult your health care provider.
For additional information on this disease, visit the Centers or Disease Control and Prevention website.
To contact the Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program, please call 860-509-7994.