What do you know about leptospirosis?

World over, different countries have witnessed outbreaks of swine flu, bird flu, and etcetera, which are diseases transmitted from birds/animals to human beings.

World over, different countries have witnessed outbreaks of swine flu, bird flu, and etcetera, which are diseases transmitted from birds/animals to human beings. People are usually ignorant about such illnesses. Cases do occur round the year not only in tropical countries but also developed Western countries. In presence of risk factors, they can also occur in large numbers; one should know about these diseases and be vigilant.

Leptospirosis is also one of such diseases. Rats are important reservoirs of the germs of leptospirosis in nature. Transmission can occur to human beings due to contact with urine, blood or tissue from infected rats. The leptospirae (germs of leptospirosis) can survive in water for months.


Risk factors for acquiring leptospirosis include recreational water activities like swimming or water sports done in infected water, sewage work or living in areas infested with rats. Similar to other infections, risk of developing disease depends on amount of infecting germs and resistance of the person.


The spirochaetal organism can enter the body via abrasion in skin or soft inner lining of organs. This is followed by spread of organism in the entire body via the blood stream. During their course in body the germs can cause inflammation of blood vessels and damage their walls.


Symptoms usually develop within two to 20 days of entry and spread of the organism in the body. There is high grade fever with severe headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pains and swelling. The germs can affect lungs or airways causing cough with blood in expectoration and breathlessness. Jaundice develops in majority of cases with severe infection. The affected person may also have redness of eyes, bleeding from nose, bleeding spots on skin. Death can occur in severe cases due to liver or kidney failure, whereas timely treatment can check and clear the infection so that the affected individual can regain normal health.

Leptospirosis should be considered in any person having high grade fever, severe muscle pains, jaundice and other features of systemic infection. Because of its multiple manifestations the disease can be confused with malaria, viral hepatitis and many other infections. Diagnosis is based on clinical suspicion and confirmed by demonstration of the leptospirae in smears prepared from body fluids or cultures. Specific serological tests also aid in diagnosis. Treatment is by suitable antibiotics.

Thus, considering the gravity of the infection it would be prudent to avoid the infection. First and foremost step is to maintain good personal hygiene and a clean environment.

All fruits, vegetables, meat, and other food items should be washed thoroughly before being consumed. A true story was on the Internet a few years earlier. It was about a woman in Texas on a boat. On the way, she drank a soft drink directly from a can, developed high fever and jaundice, which was found to be leptospirosis and died. Reason being that the top of the can was contaminated with dried rat urine. This tells that one should ensure that everything used for eating or drinking should be clean and hygienic.

Any cut or abrasion in the body should be kept covered and well attended to avoid infection.

Steps should be taken to keep houses and other premises free of rats. Floors of houses should be mopped regularly. Any holes in the floor should also be kept covered to prevent entry of rodents in the house.

There is nothing to be afraid of rats but it is prudent to keep a good hygienic distance. Because diseases spread by rats like leptospirosis can cause havoc in one’s life.

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