What is Leptospirosis?

Spirochaetes is a member of the Leptospira and is responsible for a zoonotic bacterial disease called Leptospirosis. The term ‘zoonosis’ refers to any infectious disease that can be transmitted from both wild and domestic animals to humans; it is sometimes transferred via a vector or small organism. When humans pass on bacterial diseases to animals the process is referred to as reverse zoonosis. Besides humans, Leptospirosis affects other mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

The disease was described for the first time in 1886 by Adolf Weil; the disease is characterized by an enlarged spleen, nephritis and jaundice. In 1916 its presence in rats was discovered the prevalence of rats transmitting the disease has earned it the name “Rat Catcher’s Yellow”. Other aliases include Weil’s syndrome, canefield fever, 7-day fever, nanukayami fever, canicola fever, Pretibial fever, Weil’s disease and Fort Bragg fever.

Transmission of Leptospirosis

It is a rare bacterial infection in humans although this type of zoonoses is deemed as one of the world’s most common. The infection is commonly transmitted to humans through water contaminated by animal urine that comes in contact with food, broken skin, mucous membranes or eyes. It can also be transmitted via the semen of infected animals. In both cases, transmission is possible as long as the fluid remains moist. A condition that can affect persons all year round in the tropical regions, Leptospirosis occurs in seasons in other regions. There are two such seasons: February to March and August to September.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Not all infected persons will exhibit symptoms. For those who do, symptoms of the condition in its first stage include muscle pains, chills, intense headaches, high fever and other flu-like symptoms. These may persist or stop causing a period in which the disease is asymptomatic (giving no indications) after which the second stage is triggered.

In stage two, the symptoms are jaundice caused by liver damage, renal failure and meningitis. Since stage one may go unnoticed and stage two is characterized by other major conditions, Leptospirosis may be misdiagnosed or go undocumented resulting in less cases being registered than actually exists.

Red eyes, rash, diarrhea and abdominal pain are also symptoms of the infection. The normal incubation period of the disease is 4 to 14 days. Within the first 7 to 10 days a blood test can be done to diagnose the condition since the bacteria stays in the blood during this time. Since it moves to the kidneys after, diagnosis is done using fresh urine sample post day 10. A fresh kidney biopsy can be used to detect the bacteria as well.

Treatment for Leptospirosis

To avoid Leptospirosis around the house avoid rat infestations, do not eat food that comes in contact with rats or any animal since domestic animals can lick contaminated items and spread the infection. This is especially so in the case of children who tend to share food with their pets.
There are no vaccines however, it can be treated. Treatment includes but is not limited to heavy dosages of antibiotics. Untreated Leptospirosis is often fatal regardless of the victim’s age.