Two types of leptospirosis can affect people:
· Weil’s disease – caused by leptospira icterohemorrhagica. A serious and sometimes fatal infection that is transmitted to humans by contact with urine from infected rats.
· The second form is caused by leptospira hardjo and is transmitted from cattle to humans.
Both diseases start as a flu-like illness with a persistent and severe headache. Anyone who is exposed to rats, rat or cattle urine or to fetal fluids from cattle is at risk. Farmers are now the main group at risk for both Weil’s disease and cattle leptospirosis, the cattle form is a special risk for dairy farmers. Other people who have contracted leptospirosis in recent years include: vets, meat inspectors, butchers, abattoir and sewer workers. Workers in contact with canal and river water are also at risk.
The bacteria can get into your body through cuts and scratches and through the lining of the mouth, throat, and eyes and after contact with infected urine or contaminated water, such as in sewers, ditches, ponds, and slow-flowing rivers. People working in dairy parlors are often in contact with cattle urine. Rat urine may also contaminate animal feedstuffs on farms.
· Get rid of rats. Don’t touch them with unprotected hands.
· Consult your vet about the cattle infection.
· Cover all cuts and broken skin with waterproof plasters before and during work.
· Wear protective clothing.
· Wash your hands after handling any animal, or any contaminated clothing or other materials, and always before eating, drinking, or smoking.
Report any illness to your doctor. Leptospirosis is much less severe if it is treated promptly.
Early treatment and diagnosis are vital in Weil’s disease as jaundice is often absent in the early stages. The illness in leptospira hardjo may also be greatly shortened by appropriate antibiotic treatment.
Vaccinate pet dogs for leptospirosis annually.