Leptospirosis: Symptoms, infection and treatment
It is known as leptospirosis or Weil’s disease to a disease of bacterial origin, which represents a very important problem for public health by its distribution throughout the world, and the fact of having the ability to manifest its symptoms in both humans as in hundreds of wild and domestic animals.
Its appearance, in general, is related to exposure to contaminated food that allows transmission from an infected animal to the human, although under certain circumstances, it may be more likely to occur in other situations. Do you want to know what steps you should take if you have the suspicion of being or knowing someone who may be infected by this disease?
Weil’s disease: Causes of leptospirosis
Sometimes also called Weil’s disease, leptospirosis is a condition caused by bacteria of the genus leptospira, to whom the disease owes its name. The bacteria that cause leptospirosis have the ability to survive by embracing humans and a wide variety of animals ranging from farm animals such as cows and pigs, wild animals such as rats and even domestic animals such as dogs, and even can manifest symptoms in these animals.
The bacteria that cause leptospirosis have the ability to cross mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat and eyes by staying in contact with these surfaces for a sufficient time. In general, the transmission of leptospirosis occurs either by a direct mechanism:
- The contact of the person with blood, urine or some infected tissue
- Through the intake of food and water contaminated with Leptospira
On the other hand, the contagion can also occur by an indirect mechanism that is much more frequent, and which involves the contact of the skin or mucosa with soils, objects or liquids that are contaminated with urine from infected animals.
Leptospirosis can be observed both in rural and urban areas and depends very much on the health status of the population, and tends to have a predilection for tropical regions. However, the appearance of outbreaks of leptospirosis is more related to the occurrence of natural disasters such as floods, without distinguishing the living conditions.
Leptospirosis in humans: Symptoms
In some very rare situations, leptospirosis does not produce any symptoms, but usually a clinical picture is characterized by two phases generally, of which the second phase is always more serious.
During the first days in which the disease manifests, the affected person may feel symptoms very similar to those of a cold, characterized by:
- Shaking chills
- Muscle pains.
After this first phase, the way in which the disease manifests itself in its second phase can have different degrees of severity:
It is the form that occurs more frequently, and also the milder manifestation of the disease. The same symptoms mentioned above are presented, usually more accentuated. Digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea also begin to appear, and aseptic meningitis occurs in the majority of those infected. After 4 to 9 days the patient can recover completely, but there is a risk of reappearance of symptoms.
This form of leptospirosis is much less frequent but also much more serious. Its name is due to an increase in bilirubin levels producing a yellow coloration of the skin and conjunctiva of the eyes known as jaundice, which is also accompanied by inflammation and pain of the liver. Kidney failure is another characteristic of this form of leptospirosis which can be very mild or extremely serious. Hemorrhages can be observed at different levels of the body, which appear on the skin with the appearance of bruises and red spots, nosebleeds, hemoptysis and blood in the stool. In addition, there may be a condition of circulatory function, alteration of blood components and lung involvement.
The diagnosis of Leptospirosis is made through a blood study that seeks to identify the bacteria or the antibodies that the body generates to fight it. When a person has an acute fever, and it is exposed to conditions where there may be more exposure to the bacteria (a field worker, for example), you should suspect leptospirosis.
The treatment of the patient depends very much on the severity of the disease. In the mildest cases, the patient can be instructed to take antibiotic medication to reduce the bacterial charge, and the consumption of anti-inflammatory analgesics to reduce symptoms. The antibiotics usually indicated are penicillin or one of their family, and doxycycline in case of allergic to penicillin, and analgesics are usually ibuprofen, diclofenac or naproxen. Mild patients do not need special care, so they can comply with the treatment indicated in their homes.
In the most severe cases, the treatment becomes more complicated, since liver and kidney function must be assessed. These cases must be managed in a hospital and many times these patients are admitted to the intensive care service. The medication should be continued with antibiotics, but the analgesics mentioned above should not be used as analgesics because they can increase the risk of hemorrhage; Paracetamol is administered instead.
Although eradicating leptospirosis is an almost impossible task due to the large distribution of the causative bacteria among different animals, there are certain measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting the disease:
- First of all, the risk of contact with rodents and their biological waste should be eliminated, since these are one of the main causes of the disease. This can be achieved through the reinforcement of hygiene measures and combating the invasion of rats and mice in our home and in the vicinity.
- Domestic and field animals can be vaccinated against the disease to reduce the risk of their infection, and in this way also reduce the risk to humans. This is a measure that is recommended mainly for people who live in endemic areas.
- People who are exposed to the disease due to working conditions, such as veterinarians, field workers, public toilets or those who work with sewer systems in cities, should be adequately protected by using gloves, face masks and goggles in order to avoid contact with liquids or any substance that may contain the bacteria.
- Something as simple as to improve the way in which the meal is disinfected can reduce enormously the risks of enduring this illness. Avoiding this disease can be simple, as long as you always bear in mind the importance of optimal hygiene measures.