Aug 23, 2010


Leptospirosis is a disease caused by Leptospira bacteria. Also known as Weil’s or Canecutter’s disease, it is contracted when grazed or cut skin (most commonly hands or feet) is infected by animal urine or other animal fluid, or soil or water contaminated by urine or other animal fluid. It has an incubation period of between two and 30 days but normally about 10 days. Most commonly, people infected are individuals whose work includes contact with animals and/or soil or water contaminated with the urine of infected animals.

Normally a sudden-onset illness, symptoms include fever, headaches, severe muscle pain nausea, vomiting and bloodshot eyes. The fever may fluctuate, and in some cases, a skin rash, impaired liver function resulting in jaundice (yellowing of the skin), confusion, depression, kidney failure or even meningitis may occur. The severity of symptoms can vary in each case. Further complications due to infection include kidney, heart and lung damage. In some instances, these complications can cause death.

The illness normally lasts from three days to three weeks, however if left untreated, it can take several months to recover from the disease.

A person with leptospirosis is usually admitted to hospital and treated with appropriate antibiotics.

Health Outcome
People with leptospirosis normally recover well after antibiotic treatment. In some cases, intensive care treatment is required.
Prior infection with leptospirosis does not guarantee future immunity as there are a number of different types which can cause infection.
Treatment is recommended to avoid further complications and persistence of the disease. Recovery, if the disease is left untreated, may take serveral months.

People most at risk include farmers, abattoir workers, people cleaning up after rodents, bushwalkers, campers, canoeists and gardeners. To prevent contracting leptospirosis, employ the Cover-Wash-Clean Up strategy:
Cover consists of protecting all cuts, grazes and abrasions with waterproof dressings or band-aids and wearing dry, full-cover boots or shoes, gloves and long sleeve shirts when handling animals (eg. milking, trimming, tagging and birthing), soil, vegetation or animal feed that is possibly contaminated.
Wash involves thoroughly washing hands regularly, particularly before any hand to mouth, nose or eye action such as smoking or eating, and showering after work. Any contact with animals or carcasses (eg. aborted material or rat traps), or with liquids that are potentially contaminated with urine, faeces and blood from animals, should be followed by washing of hands and arms in soapy water and washing of contaminated clothes.
Clean Up involves controlling rodents around the home by securing rubbish lids, cleaning up bench tops with bleach solution, and generally keeping the workplace and home clean to discourage rodents. You can also prevent the contamination of living and recreational areas by keeping potentially infected animals away from such zones, for example keeping working dogs away from the house and yard, and not letting them inside. Also, do not feed dogs raw offal as it may contain bacteria which can cause the disease.

For individuals who are at high occupational risk, there is the possibility of implementing animal vaccination (for cattle and pigs), which reduces the shedding of bacteria. This can be a key strategy for large scale farms and businesses.