Leptospirosis: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself from It

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by a bacterium called Leptospira. In some cases, a leptospirosis infection results in no symptoms at all or very mild ones. However, there are instances in which a leptospirosis infection can result in severe symptoms, some that are even potentially fatal. Through this article, you are presented with an examination of leptospirosis itself and how you can protect yourself from infection.

How Leptospirosis is Contracted

Scientifically, there exist 10 different types of Leptospira, the bacteria responsible for causing leptospirosis. Wild and domesticated animals can carry the bacteria responsible for causing leptospirosis. In California, and throughout the United States, the animals most responsible for carrying leptospirosis are cattle and rodents.

Humans contract leptospirosis most often in the U.S. by coming into direct contact with cattle or rodent urine, by water contaminated by cattle or rodent urine. In addition, moist soil can contain these bacteria as well. Research reveals that leptospirosis bacteria of all 10 strains can survive in water and moist soil for a prolonged period of time.

In addition, it is possible to contract the bacteria that gives rise to leptospirosis by coming into contact with rodent urine in a residence. Even dried rodent urine might contain active leptospirosis.

Early Symptoms of Leptospirosis

In most cases, early symptoms associated with leptospirosis develop between two to 30 days. On average, symptoms of leptospirosis begin to exhibit about 10 days after exposure. There are situations in which an infected person will show no symptoms whatsoever. In a majority of cases, leptospirosis is mild and resolves on its own without medical intervention.

A person with leptospirosis may suffer symptoms that might include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Weil’s Disease

Weil’s Disease is a severe form of leptospirosis. The symptoms of Weil’s Disease develop after those associated with a milder form of leptospirosis have dissipated for a few days.

Weil’s Disease occurs when leptospirosis attacks one or another (or multiple) organs in an infected person’s body. Organs that can suffer a severe for of leptospirosis, resulting in Weil’s Disease, are:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Brain

The symptoms of Weil’s Disease depend upon the particular organ that is infected because of leptospirosis. If the liver, kidneys, or heart are impacted by Weil’s Disease, the following symptoms may be exhibited:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen ankles, feet, or hands
  • Painful swelling of your liver
  • Decreased urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Jaundice

The symptoms of Weil’s Disease involving the lungs can result in a set of symptoms that include:

  • High fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood

The symptoms of Weil’s Disease in the brain include:

  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Neck rigidity
  • Neck pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Confused mental state
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Seizures
  • Inability to control movements
  • Inability to speak
  • Aversion to lights

If leptospirosis progresses to the point of becoming Weil’s Disease, a person will need to be hospitalized. The primary course of treatment is intravenous antibiotics. If treatment for Weil’s Disease does not commence in a timely manner, an individual heart failure, liver failure, or kidney failure. In some cases, Weil’s Disease can prove fatal.

Severe Pulmonary Hemorrhage Syndrome

Severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome is sometimes set apart as a separate condition that can result from a severe case of leptospirosis. In some cases, it is deemed to be a type of Weil’s Disease impacting a person’s lungs.

Whether classified as a form or Weil’s Disease or as severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome, the primary symptom is hemorrhaging of the lungs. If not controlled, blood can continue to infiltrate the lungs, causing a serious medical issue. In some cases, severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome can prove fatal.

How to Protect Against Leptospirosis

Scientists have developed vaccines for some strains of leptospirosis. As noted, thus far 10 strains of leptospirosis have been identified. A vaccine simply may not work for the type of leptospirosis to which person is exposed.

The surest way of preventing leptospirosis infection is to avoid contact with the bacteria in the first instance. For most people, this means making certain that they do not come into contact with rodent urine. (As an aside, rodent urine and feces can carry other types of serious disease as well.)

If a person’s residence has an issue with rodent infestation, in addition to eliminating rodents a concerted effort must be undertaken to address rodent dropping and urine cleanup. Oftentimes, the surest course is to engage the services a biohazard remediation professional to eliminate rodent feces and urine from a residence.

When cleaning rodent feces and urine using personal protective equipment is a must. This includes:

  • Protective eyewear
  • Gloves
  • Apron or smock
  • Mask or respirator

A person should never make contact or attempt to cleanup rodent feces or urine without wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.