Are you familiar with the term leptospirosis? You are, trust us. Probably not in so many letters, but many of us know that coming into contact with rat urine is somewhat harmful. Also, we most commonly refer to it as ‘the rat disease’. Well, leptospirosis is the medical term. But, let’s start at the beginning.
What is it?
Leptospirosis (pronounced lepto-spi-ro-sis) is a bacterial infection that passes from animals to humans. Animals carry the bacterium Leptospira interrogans in their kidneys. Through their urine, it ends up in soil or water. For humans, transmission occurs when an open wound or a scratch comes into contact with animal urine.
Though not contagious, the bacterial infection’s severity can worsen to the point of fatality. In some cases, its progression results in Weil’s disease or even meningitis.
How does it affect us?
According to the World Health Organisation, it affects approximately 10 in 100,000 people every year. While these numbers may seem small, it has been quite prevalent in the Caribbean region. In fact, a 1993 study published in the journal Reviews in Medical Microbiology states leptospirosis was endemic in most of the region.
Two decades later leptospirosis continues to be a problem in the region. A 2015 study, Global Morbidity and Mortality of Leptospirosis: A Systematic Review, reports that the Caribbean’s annual morbidity rate is 50.7 per 100,000 per population.
The weather factors significantly in the prevalence of the bacterium which thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
Both domestic and wild animals host and transmit leptospirosis. Some other animals that act as hosts are dogs and pigs, as well as other livestock. In the Caribbean, commensal rodents (rats and mice), and mongoose are chief transmitters of the condition.
What are the types?
Most often, it is the mild case of leptospirosis which people contract; however, there have also been severe cases. Severe occurrences result when there is a progression of the infection. In such instances, the bacterium begins to infect major organs causing organ failure, internal haemorrhaging and even death.
Transitioning from mild to severe Leptospirosis can be deceiving as in most instances, you will appear to have recovered then have a relapse. However, most times the mild infection is not life-threatening.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of mild leptospirosis are:
Symptoms of severe leptospirosis are
What are some preventative measures?
The best way to avoid contraction of the disease is to implement health safety measures. Here are some ways to prevent infection:
Beware of contaminated water. Unless you’re sure the water is clean, do not drink it. Leptospirosis can enter the body through other openings. Stay clear of contaminated water.
Avoid rats at all costs. In our region rats are the number one cause of leptospirosis.
Check perishable food items for contamination. Perishable food items not stored in your refrigerator are at risk. They are easily accessed by rodents. Be sure to check before consuming or cooking. If you suspect contamination it may be best to discard.
Clean canned items. Usually stored for long periods of time, these items can easily come into contact with rodents. Whether food or beverage it’s safest to sanitise the can before opening.
Keep disinfectant on hand. Use a disinfectant to maintain the cleanliness of your surroundings. WebMD lists bleach, iodine, and acid solutions as being deadly to the bacterium, Leptospira interrogans.
To prevent Leptospirosis, we need to become more aware. Let’s endeavour to be alert of our surroundings and our practices. However, do remember it is treatable.
If you think you’ve contracted leptospirosis be sure to consult your doctor.
Sources: WebMD, Reviews in Medical Microbiology, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Medical News Today, PAHO.