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The ABC of Leptospirosis! All you need to know about this deadly bacterial infection

Leptospirosis is a water-borne disease that spreads via direct contact with infected excreta or urine of rats. © Shutterstock

A rare bacterial infection, leptospirosis or rat fever is caused by the urine of infected rats, dogs and farm animals.

Written by Sudhakar Jha |Published : September 1, 2018 10:26 AM IST

The Health Department of Kerala has recently issued a high alert against leptospirosis or commonly known as rat fever. But what is this phenomenon? Well, to be precise it's a bacterial infection that we get from the urine of the animals like rats, dogs and farm animals. Interestingly, the animals do not have any symptoms of the infection are actially the carriers of the disease. Leptospirosis isn't generally considered life-threatening, but the sufferer goes through an unpleasant phase, like in flu. The infection doesn't last more than a week, but in some cases, in the severest form of leptospirosis, sickness returns after getting better.

The infection is also known as Weil's disease and causes much more serious issues, like chest pain and swollen arms and legs, and hospitalisation is recommended for the infected.

How does it happen?

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Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterium called Leptospira interrogans from the genus Leptospira family of bacteria. The infection is carried in the animals' kidneys and get mixed in the soil and water through their urines. The germ can then enter your body through skin breaks in the form of scratches, open wounds or dry areas. The bacteria also enter through the nose, mouth, or genitals. The bacteria don't transmit from humans but can pass during unprotected sex or breastfeeding. If you spend a lot of time around animals, and mostly are in the outdoors, then you are likely to get infected.

Leptospirosis is found in the warmer climates and is common in southeast Asia, Central and south America, the Caribbean, Australia and Africa.


After getting infected, signs and symptoms start showing in two weeks, and starts with high fever which may even spike up to 104-degree Fahrenheit. Other symptoms ijaunclude,

  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Red eyes
  • Chills
  • Abdominal pain

Detection and treatment

The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis are quite similar to flu and can often be mistaken with the latter. A simple blood test to check antibodies helps detect the disease. However, a second test is also done after a week to confirm the presence of the bacterium. DNA tests are also ordered in this scenario which give more accurate results, but due to the expensive cost and non-availability in many countries, blood test is preferred more.

After the tests confirm leptospirosis, the disease is cured by antibodies like penicillin or doxycycline. Ibuprofen is also prescribed for fever and pain. The disease stays for a week and subsides with time and medication. Hospitalisation is also referred for those patients who have severe conditions, as the severity may lead to kidney failure, lung problems and meningitis or even death sometimes.

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