What is Leptospirosis?

Press Releasein Industry News

A note of caution to those (or who have staff) dealing with floodwater and/or silt. Some of you may be aware of Leptospirosis (Weil's disease) but following a recent case associated with the flooding in Sheffield it is important to remind people of the risks.

It is a bacterial infection carried in the urine of a number of animals including (among others) pigs, cattle, horses, dogs and rodents. It can be transmitted by swallowing or coming into contact with contaminated water (e.g. during the clean-up) or handling food after coming contact with the bacteria.

There is always a risk of infection when investigating drains, ditches & manholes which may be populated by large numbers of rats - important carriers of the disease.

IMPORTANT: The risk is higher during or following flooding when contaminated water may be dispersed over a wide area and where there is a possibility that populations of rats may be displaced by the flooding - carrying the disease to new areas.

Further information can be found at the web site links below:

Although the disease is not common it is important that everyone is aware and appropriate precautions are taken including the use of protective clothing.

This disease is extremely nasty. Early symptoms are flu-like, developing into very bad headaches and high temperatures. Please see the leptosporosis website for further information.

What is leptospirosis?

Two types of leptospirosis infection can affect workers in the UK.

Weil's diseaseThis is a serious and sometimes fatal infection that is transmitted to humans by contact with urine from infected rats.

The Hardjo form of leptospirosis This is transmitted from cattle to human

What are the symptoms?

Both diseases start with a flu-like illness with a persistent and severe headache, which can lead to vomiting and muscle pains and
ultimately to jaundice, meningitis and kidney failure. In rare cases the diseases can be fatal.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who is exposed to rats, rat or cattle urine or to fetal fluids from cattle is at risk.

Farmers are now the main group at risk for both Weil's disease and cattle leptospirosis: the cattle form is a special risk for dairy farmers.

Other people who have contracted leptospirosis in recent years include vets,meat inspectors, butchers, abattoir and sewer

Workers in contact with canal and river water are also at risk.

How might I catch it?

The bacteria can get into your body through cuts and scratches and through the lining of the mouth, throat and eyes after contact with
infected urine or contaminated water, such as in sewers, ditches, ponds and slow-flowing rivers. People working in dairy parlours are
often in contact with cattle urine. Rat urine may also contaminate animal feed stuffs on farms.

How can I prevent it?

  • Get rid of rats. Don't touch them with unprotected hands.
  • Consult your vet about the cattle infection.
  • Wash cuts and grazes immediately with soap and running water and cover all cuts and broken skin with waterproof plasters
    before and during work.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Wash your hands after handling any animal, or any contaminated clothing or other materials and always before eating,
    drinking or smoking.

What else should I do?

Report any illness to your doctor. Tell the doctor about your work and show this card.

Leptospirosis is much less severe if it is treated promptly. If your doctor decides you have leptospirosis tell your employer, who must then report it to the Incident Contact Centre (Tel: 0845 300 9923). If you are selfemployed you must report it yourself.To the doctor

The card holder's work may expose him/her to the danger of leptospirosis (either L.icterohaemorrhagiae or L. hardjo). Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in Weil's disease as jaundice is often absent in the early stages. The illness in L. hardjo may also be greatly shortened by appropriate antibiotic treatment. (Your local Public Health Laboratory Service or hospital consultant microbiologist should be able to offer advice and serological testing.)

Article Tags:
Industry news