Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection affecting people and animals. It may cause various symptoms in humans, some of which can be mistaken for other diseases. However, some infected persons can have no symptoms.
This blog explains Leptospirosis, its causes, symptoms, risk factors, complications and treatment comprehensively.
What is leptospirosis?
A type of bacteria called Leptospira causes Leptospirosis. It is a zoonotic disease, which means that it may infect humans through animals. The bacteria that cause leptospirosis transmit through urine of infected animals that can get into soil or water and survives there for weeks to months. Many different kinds of domestic or wild animals carry this bacterium.
These can include, but are not limited to:
- Rodents like rats
- Wild animals
When these animals are infected, they may have no symptoms of the disease.
In humans, this can occur because of contact with animal urine or contaminated soil or water. Sometimes, Leptospirosis leads to mild flu-like symptoms or causes no symptoms. However , sometimes Leptospirosis can lead to severe complications such as kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death.
What are the types of Leptospirosis?
There are two presentations of Leptospirosis, including:
1. Anicteric syndrome
Anicteric syndrome is the starting phase of Leptospirosis. It is a mild, flu-like illness that accounts for most cases. It starts suddenly, and the symptoms are headache, cough, non-pruritic rash, fever, muscle pain, anorexia, and diarrhea. The anicteric syndrome may last for a few days before the symptoms present themselves. It is rarely fatal.
2. Icteric syndrome
If people get better but get sick again, they may enter the second phase of Leptospirosis. This form is known as an icteric syndrome or Weil’s disease. It is more severe. Generally, this type of Leptospirosis lasts many weeks. It is less common than the first phase of Leptospirosis.
What are the symptoms of Leptospirosis?
The symptoms of Leptospirosis differ based on type and severity. Mild Leptospirosis can cause:
- Red eyes
- Stomach pain
- Muscle pain (particularly in the calves and lower back)
- Rash without itching (generally on the shins)
The symptoms of severe Leptospirosis include:
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Heart arrhythmia
- Respiratory issues
- Aseptic meningitis
Typically, it takes about 1 to 2 weeks for people with this condition to start showing symptoms. However, it can also take up to a month for people to display signs.
When should you contact a doctor?
You must contact a doctor if you have been exposed to animal urine or contaminated soil or water. You must also contact the doctor if you experience the following signs:
- Persistent fever
- Red eyes
- Unexplained stomach or muscle pain
- Unexplained diarrhoea or vomiting
- Neck stiffness
What are the causes of Leptospirosis?
A bacteria known as Leptospira causes Leptospirosis. It develops when people come into contact with:
- Contaminated soil or water
- Infected animals
- The urine of infected animals
The bacteria may enter the body through open wounds or mucous membranes, like the mouth or eyes. Afterwards, it enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body.
What are the risk factors for Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can probably affect people who:
- Live in tropical or temperate climates
- Work with animals, including dairy farmers or veterinarians
- Work outdoors, including mine or sewer workers
- Camp outside
- Swim or kayak in contaminated water bodies
- Participate in outdoor sports
- Live in areas with flooding or lack of proper sanitation
- Garden or handle potentially contaminated soil
What are the possible complications of Leptospirosis?
The treatment of Leptospirosis can help reduce its severity. However, without treatment, it may cause complications, including:
- Liver failure
- Kidney damage (which may result in kidney failure)
- Respiratory issues
- Hemodynamic collapse (shock)
- Death of the fetus (in women who are pregnant)
In some cases, it can also cause death.
The correct treatment of Leptospirosis depends on the severity. The options include:
1. Fluids and fever management
Simple remedies can treat mild cases of Leptospirosis. They include drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate rest, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
Doctors use the following antibiotics to treat Leptospirosis:
- Penicillin and ceftriaxone (for severe cases)
Antibiotics can be given intravenously for cases of severe Leptospirosis.
3. Other medical therapies
People who suffer from severe Leptospirosis must be admitted to the hospital since severe cases affect multiple organs. Based on the clinical condition and severity, patients may need additional medical interventions at the hospital. They include dialysis, mechanical ventilation, and vasopressors (medications to support blood pressure).
How can people prevent Leptospirosis?
The best way for people to prevent Leptospirosis is to avoid exposure to the bacteria. People can follow the tips to prevent Leptospirosis:
- Avoid swimming in freshwater, including rivers, ponds, and lakes that may contain animal urine.
- Avoid swimming in water bodies after heavy rainfall or flooding.
- Treat unsafe water by boiling it.
- Keep rats and other rodents away by appropriate pest control, as they are the leading carriers of the bacteria.
- Wear protective clothing or shoes when handling contaminated water or soil or working with animals.
- If pets have Leptospirosis, people can do the following to protect themselves:
- Give their pet the prescribed antibiotics, as instructed by the veterinarian.
- Avoid touching the pet’s urine.
- If the pet urinates in the house, they must clean it immediately.
- Make their pet urinate far away from water bodies or places that people come into contact with ..
- Wash their hands after touching their pet.
- People can take the following measures to protect their pets:
- Keep their pets away from rodents, wild animals, and animal corpses.
- Ensure their pets drink only clean water.
- If possible, keep their pets away from other animals’ urine.
- Ask the veterinarian if the dog requires a leptospirosis vaccine.
- Keep their pets out of contaminated water after heavy rainfall or flooding.
Leptospirosis can develop in humans and animals. It primarily spreads through the urine of infected animals, although it can also spread through contaminated water or soil.
Though most cases are mild, Leptospirosis can cause serious life-threatening complications, including meningitis and kidney damage. Getting treated as early as possible is crucial in avoiding these issues. To reduce their risk, people must prevent urine and contact with fresh water, particularly after flooding. If they work with animals, they must wear protective equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How is Leptospirosis diagnosed?
The doctors first ask the patients about their medical history. CBC and differential counts, urinalysis, microscopic agglutination test (MAT) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) may be performed .
2. Can humans get Leptospirosis from animals?
Leptospirosis is widespread among animals, including farm, wild, and domesticated animals. Leptospirosis is common in dogs but rare in cats.
3. How does Leptospirosis spread among people?
Leptospirosis rarely spreads among humans. However, spread from mother to baby can happen during pregnancy, through the placenta, posing a risk of miscarriage.