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Facts About...

LEPTOSPIROSIS


What is it?

Leptospirosis is a relatively rare disease caused by Leptospira bacteria. Leptospirosis can affect humans as well as both wild and domestic animals, including dogs and cats. Human illness varies with the specific strain of bacteria and can range from no symptoms to severe disease. In severe disease, the bacteria can affect most organs in the body, including the brain. The bacteria can also be serious for animals.

How is it spread?

The bacteria are spread by exposure to water or soil that has been contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Leptospira can survive in the environment for weeks to months. Humans become infected through the skin (especially if broken) or through mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose and mouth. Sometimes, infection occurs by swallowing contaminated food or water. The disease does not usually spread from person to person.

In areas where leptospirosis is common, the risk for the disease is increased for those participating in water activities such as white water rafting, adventure racing or kayaking, as well as those exposed to flooding.

What do I look for?

Symptoms of leptospirosis include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, diarrhea and sometimes rash. If not treated, death from kidney, lung and/or heart failure may occur. The time from infection to becoming sick is usually 10 days, but can be as short as 2 days or as long as 30 days. The illness lasts from a few days to 3 weeks or longer. Without treatment, recovery may take several months. Many symptoms of Leptospirosis are found in other diseases, therefore it must be confirmed by laboratory testing of a blood or urine sample.

How is it treated?

Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics.

How can I protect myself?

  • Minimize contact with water that may be contaminated with animal urine
  • Wear protective clothing and footwear if contamination with animal urine is likely
  • If a pet has leptospirosis, avoid contact with urine, blood, or tissues until the animal has received proper treatment
  • Surfaces which have been contaminated by urine from an infected pet should be cleaned and sanitized with a solution of 1 part household bleach and 9 parts water
  • Always wash your hands after handling an animal or anything that might have your pet’s excrement or urine on it
  • Antibiotics may be appropriate for preventing the infection to exposed people in areas of high exposure

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613

April 22, 2013