Leptospirosis is a zoonosis disease, diagnosed in humans and several animals. Symptoms in humans are manifested within a few days to 4 weeks from the date of exposure to the causal bacterium.
While most diseases are specific for humans and animals, there are some infectious diseases that affect both. Such medical conditions are collectively referred to as zoonosis. Examples include leptospirosis, cholera, dengue fever, and anthrax. Leptospirosis (canicola fever or Weil’s disease) is a systemic disease that affects various organs of the body. Learning how to identify leptospirosis will help in timely diagnosis of this severe illness for prompt treatment.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, diagnosed in a wide range of animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. In simpler words, it is basically an animal disease that can be transmitted to humans via contaminated water, food, and other environmental sources. The causal bacteria is a species of Leptospira, classified under spirochaetes. As per medical data, the occurrence rate of leptospirosis is high amongst occupational professionals. In temperate regions, infection usually takes place during the months of February, March, August and September.
Leptospirosis Symptoms in Humans
With reference to the mode of transmission, leptospirosis is also known as mud fever, swamp fever, and swineherd’s disease. The causal organism is expelled with the infected animal’s urine, which in turn gets mixed with nearby water bodies and soil. It enters humans when the contaminated water, food, or soil comes in contact with skin wounds, eyes, and mucous membranes. After infection, the disease may remain asymptomatic in many people. When manifested, symptoms are vague and mimic several other diseases. After all, it is a systemic illness that affects the body as whole.
In general, the incubation period of leptospirosis is 2 days to as long as 4 weeks after getting exposed to pathogenic bacteria. As with other cases of infections, one of the most notable symptoms of leptospirosis is running a high temperature or fever. This is because of the body’s immune system trying to fight against the bacterium. In all infection cases, this bacterial infection occurs in two phases, with the second phase more severe than the previous one. The two phases are separated by a few days, during which the patient feels better. Some commonly manifested symptoms in the first phase (or acute phase) are listed below.
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Sudden chills
- Sore throat
- Yellowish skin color (jaundice)
- Yellowish eyes
- Watery eyes
- Reddening of eyes
- Pain in eyes
- Skin rashes
- Abdominal pain
- Sensitivity to light
As you see, signs and symptoms of acute leptospirosis can be quite confusing. Very often, they are mistaken for other illnesses. However, identifying leptospirosis symptoms in the early stages is crucial to avoid severe health complications. If left untreated for a prolonged time, the acute phase is followed by second phase. Symptoms for second phase include kidney malfunction, meningitis (meninges inflammation), respiratory complications, and liver failure. Since these symptoms are life-threatening, one should not delay in getting medical attention.
Once in a health care setting, a doctor will examine physical symptoms and take medical history. If leptospirosis is suspected, a blood or urine test is conducted to check for presence of Leptospira strains in the sample. If correct treatment with antibiotics (penicillin or doxycycline) is proceeded, the disease lasts for a few days to a few weeks time. For weak patients, or those with severe symptoms, antibiotics may be delivered intravenously. In case therapeutic intervention in not followed, a patient may take several months to recover fully.
This was an overview on leptospirosis symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Coming to the prevention part, maintaining proper hygiene and following personal cleaning are suggested to avoid infections by the Leptospira organism. Do not swim in water that is suspected to be contaminated by animal’s urine. Also, for minimizing infections, wash hands frequently, avoid touching the eyes and nose after visiting animal enclosures, and also, keep the body covered while swimming.