Leptospirosis, also known as “Rabbit Fever” is a relatively rare bacterial infection caused by a strain of Leptospira. It is most commonly transmitted from animals to humans when a person with unhealed skin wounds comes into contact with water or soil that has been contaminated with animal urine. The bacterium can enter the body through the eyes or mucous membranes. Most often, the animals that are carriers and transmit the bacteria are rats, ferrets, foxes and other rodents.

What are the symptoms?

In humans, the disease can cause a wide range of symptoms:

  • High fever, headache, chills and muscle aches;
  • Jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain;
  • Diarrhea, rash and vomiting;

Many of these symptoms can be confused with other diseases. In some cases, some of the infected persons may not develop all the symptoms, but only some of them.

The period between exposure to a leptospira-contaminated source and becoming ill is 2 days to 4 weeks. The disease leptospirosis begins with a sudden rise in high temperature. The disease can occur in 2 phases. After the 1st phase, the infected can recover for a while, but then it is possible to get sick again.

If the infected person develops the second phase, it is more severe. The patient may have kidney or liver damage 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 can take several months.

What causes it?

The bacterium Leptospira can be transmitted by bats, sheep, dogs, mice, horses, cattle, buffalo and pigs. The bacteria usually live in the kidneys of animals and are excreted when they urinate and contaminate soil and drinking water. The bacterium can survive in soil or water for months.

People can become infected by:

  • Drinking water contaminated with bacteria;
  • Contact with contaminated water or soil if they have unhealed skin wounds;
  • Contact with contaminated soil or water through the eyes, the nose or mouth;
  • Contact with the blood of an infected animal /less often/;

People are less often infected. Outbreaks of infection can occur during floods. It is also rare that the bacteria can be transmitted to another person, but it is possible that infection can occur during sexual intercourse or during breastfeeding.

Treatment of leptospirosis

If the disease is detected at an earlier stage, the doctor prescribes a 5-7 day course of treatment with antibiotics – most often tetracycline penicillin or doxycycline.

When the disease is not detected in time, the infected person should be hospitalized and antibiotics should be infused intravenously. Depending on which organs are affected, oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation may be needed to support breathing.

If the kidneys are affected, the patient is put on hemodialysis. During hospitalization, liquids are also infused intravenously for the patient’s hydration, and basic nutrients are also provided intravenously.

The duration of the hospital stay is determined by the attending physician and can vary from several weeks to several months. The length of stay depends mostly on how the patient reacts to the antibiotic therapy and to what extent the organs are affected or damaged.

How can we protect ourselves?

The probability of infection in the country is currently slightly higher due to prolonged rainfall and associated local flooding. It is recommended to apply waterproof dressings to open wounds when swimming in freshwater pools such as dams or lakes.

The risk of infection increases if there is faecal leakage in the water body in which you bathe, so it is recommended to avoid bathing in such water bodies. Fast-flowing waters are preferable for summer cooling, since the water temperature is lower, and the constant movement of the water does not allow the development of any bacteria.

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