What is leptospirosis and how to prevent it?

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News about an increase in leptospirosis cases are common after a storm or a hurricane. Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria that can be hard to diagnose since it can produce several symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases.

It is very important to know the causes and possible symptoms of leptospirosis since it can be treated if diagnosed on time. If left untreated, it may have serious consequences such as kidney and liver damage, meningitis, and respiratory complications. 

Below we share what you need to know to prevent becoming infected and identify its symptoms on time to receive appropriate treatment.

How can I become infected?

Leptospirosis is transmitted through the urine of animals infected with these bacteria. Several animals such as cows, horses, dogs, and rodents can be carriers of the bacteria, even when they do not show any symptoms.

Leptospirosis cases tend to increase after heavy rainfall that causes flooding, since the displaced water comes into contact with the urine these animals leave on the ground. Humans can come into contact with this contaminated water and get infected through their skin, eyes, nose, and mouth. Ingesting contaminated water can also cause the infection.

How do I know if I have leptospirosis and how do I treat it?

Leptospirosis can cause a variety of symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • High fever
  • Sore muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or skin)

They typically start to show between 5-14 days after the exposure to the bacteria. As these symptoms can also be confused with other diseases, it is important to seek prompt medical attention to have tests done and get an accurate diagnosis.

If the infection is in fact leptospirosis, it can be treated with antibiotics. The sooner it is identified, the better the antibiotics will work.

How can I prevent leptospirosis?

The best way to prevent coming into contact with the bacteria is to avoid touching or drinking water that is potentially contaminated. Here are various recommendations to avoid the risk of infection:

  • Boil the water before ingesting it, especially if it was collected from a source that could have been exposed to flood water. Another option is to consume bottled water.
  • Do not swim or walk through flooded areas or a body of water that might have come into contact with flood water.
  • If you have to come into contact with possibly contaminated water, wear rain boots and gear.

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