Patient Education

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an infection that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria called Leptospira. Leptospirosis is distributed worldwide but is most common in the tropics.

How do people acquire leptospirosis?

Leptospira bacteria infect a wide range of animals, birds, and reptiles. Humans are infected accidentally. The organism is typically transmitted via exposure of mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth) or abraded skin to the body fluid of an acutely infected animal or by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of an infected animal.

Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters. Person to person transmission is rare.

The people at risk of contracting leptospirosis are those in close contact with animals, like farmworkers, veterinarians, pet shop owners, field agricultural workers, abattoir workers, plumbers, meat handlers, and slaughterhouse workers, workers in the fishing industry, military troops, milkers, and sewer workers.

The disease may also be acquired during water sports or hiking or as a consequence of flooding or waterlogging. Leptospirosis is commonly seen after children have waded through dirty water that accumulates after heavy rains have caused floods.

In India, leptospirosis epidemics usually occur in low lying areas prone to flooding in the monsoon season.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

In 90% of cases, leptospirosis manifests with fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and rash and is often confused with viral illnesses.

In 10% of cases, the presentation is more severe, and the infection has a mortality rate of 10%. Known as Weil disease, the classic definition of this form of leptospirosis includes fever, jaundice, kidney failure, and bleeding. Other organs (lungs, heart, brain) are also frequently involved.

The time between a person's exposure to a contaminated source and becoming sick is 2 days to 4 weeks. The illness usually begins abruptly with fever and other symptoms. 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 or meningitis. This phase is also called Weil's disease.

The illness lasts from a few days to 3 weeks or longer. Without treatment, recovery may take several months.

When to suspect leptospirosis?

If you reside in an area endemic for leptospirosis, and your child is getting fever and has waded in dirty water recently, contact your family physician for early management.

How is the diagnosis of leptospirosis made?

Laboratory studies are used for two purposes in leptospirosis: to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the extent of organ involvement and severity of complications. Laboratory confirmation of leptospirosis can be accomplished through isolation of the pathogen or by serologic testing.

What is the treatment of leptospira?

Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and tetracycline. A child with leptospirosis needs hospitalization and treated and monitored for complications.

Intravenous antibiotics may be required in the presence of more severe symptoms.

How can leptospira be prevented?

Leptospirosis may be prevented by keeping public areas and roads clean and ensuring proper drainage of waterlogging prone areas during rains. During rains, one must avoid waterlogged roads. Extra precautions must be taken in monsoon. The risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by avoiding swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine, or eliminating contact with potentially infected animals.

Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated water or soil because of their job or recreational activities.

Are there any vaccines to prevent leptospirosis?

There is no vaccine to prevent leptospira

Leptospirosis Leptospirosis https://www.pediatriconcall.com/show_article/default.aspx?main_cat=infectious-diseases&sub_cat=leptospirosis&url=leptospirosis-patient-education 2015-08-01
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