Fiji: Leptospirosis surge prompts health warning

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The Fiji Ministry of Health recently reported 61 cases of the severe bacterial infection, leptospirosis, since the beginning of the year, according to a local media report.

Image/CDC
Image/CDC

The cases are reported two months after Tropical Cyclone Winston hit the island and two weeks after Tropical Cyclone Zena passed southeast of Fiji, causing torrential rains that triggered major flooding.

Leptospirosis is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Leptospira interrogans, is often referred to as “rat fever” due to the principal role rats play in spreading the disease (scientists refer this type of animal as a reservoir host).  Other animals can also be important reservoirs of the disease.

These animals can spread the disease in their urine, contaminating water, soil, or food.  People who live in close contact with domestic animals or wildlife are at higher risk for getting the disease.

People become infected by coming into contact with contaminated urine, water, food, or soil through breaks in the skin, eyes, mouth, or nose. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters. Person to person transmission is rare. Infected individuals initially experience fever, severe headache and muscle aches, abdominal pain, and occasionally a skin rash.  Patients in the later stages of disease can suffer from jaundice, kidney failure, bleeding from the mouth or nose, bloody urine and can be fatal, especially without proper treatment.

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