The numbers of people infected with the potentially life threatening disease, leptospirosis, has increased over the past decade showing rates quite a bit higher than neighboring United Kingdom.

In recent years the numbers have gone from 22 in 2007 to 30 in 2008.

All this comes to light after an elderly man recently died from the spirochete infection.

The country has seen most of the cases associated with either farming or participating in watersports like canoeing and swimming.

What is leptospirosis?

It is a bacterial zoonotic disease caused by the corkscrew shaped organism, Leptospira interrogans. It goes by several other names depending on the locale; mud fever, swamp fever, sugar cane and Fort Bragg fever, among others. It is a disease of both humans and animals.

How do people get infected with this bacterium?

The rat is the main host to Leptospira. However other animals such as cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals.

People become infected by direct or indirect contact with the urine of these animals. Contact with urine-contaminated water is extremely important. Contaminated food and soil containing animal urine are other potential sources of infection.

The bacterium enters through contact with skin. Especially through cuts or breaks in the skin and through mucous membranes like the eyes.

Found worldwide, it was long considered an occupational disease (miners, farming, vets, and sugarcane harvesting and sewer workers), it is increasingly associated with recreational water sports and camping.

What are the symptoms of the disease?

Symptoms and disease if present appear in up to 4 weeks after exposure. Sometimes the person will show no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Leptospirosis may occur in two phases; after the first phase, with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhea, the patient may recover for a time but become ill again. If a second phase occurs, it is more severe; the person may have kidney or liver failure (jaundice) or meningitis. This phase is also called Weil’s disease.

How do they diagnose and treat for leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is confirmed by laboratory testing of a blood or urine sample.
The infection can be treated with antibiotics (penicillin and doxycycline), especially if started early in the disease. For very ill patients, intensive care support and IV antibiotic may be necessary.

What can you do to prevent this infection?

The CDC recommends the following:
• Not swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine.
• Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated water or soil because of their job or recreational activities.