Leptospirosis: The Silent Killer Everyone Should Be Aware Of

floods and leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease one can easily get most commonly when walking through floods. And yes you can die from it – and die fast.

Many have died after just a few days after getting infected.

When Leptospirosis has claimed 99 lives in the first 6 months of 2018 as per the Department of Health, you know you need to protect yourself.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which affects both humans and animals. It is acquired when coming into contact with infected animal urine through the bacteria called Leptospira.

How Deadly is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis one of the most common and widespread diseases around the world causing about 1.03 million cases and 58,900 deaths every year.

One incident in the Philippines reported a devastating break out of the disease which resulted in a swift rise in the number of infected people.  In the span of a week, 6 succumbed to the illness while 52 people were admitted. The increase in infection was primarily caused by the rainy season and flood waters.

A study conducted by the International Journal of Infectious Disease shows that countries in the Caribbean, South America, and North America, has the highest annual rates of reported leptospirosis infection as shown in the graph below.

Africa has the highest rate yet the data shows that the figure was from the county of Seychelles alone. North America comes in second which comprises of Barbados, Jamaica, and Costa Rica, from the highest to the lowest. South America consists of Trinidad and Uruguay, while in Asia, Sri Lanka and Thailand have the highest number of cases.

Cause and Transmission

What causes Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis comes from animals which carries the bacteria Leptospira.

Rats, dogs, pigs, and farm animals, are common carriers of the disease. In addition, they are considered to be the primary sources of infection.

Animals carrying the bacteria often do not get sick, particularly the rats. As a result, this makes it harder to detect infected animals without undergoing clinical tests.

How is Leptospirosis transmitted?

Direct and indirect contact with animal urine causes Leptospirosis. The most common is caused by leptospirosis on dogs.

The direct transfer includes urine contact with an exposed part of the body. In other words, these are cuts, open wounds, and membranes in the body such as the mouth and eyes.

Likewise, indirect infection includes drinking contaminated water and coming into contact with infected food and soil.

Meanwhile, there are other rare modes of transmission aside from urine. One is through human interaction such as breastfeeding and sexual activity.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the early signs of Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is one of the most underreported diseases because it can easily be mistaken for another sickness.

Its symptoms are most of the time, also common in other diseases. For instance, high fever and dengue share common symptoms with each other. While Leptospirosis has no unique symptom, a bunch of conditions might indicate a possible infection.

Human Symptoms
  • High fever with chills
  • Rashes
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Organ Damage
Pet Symptoms
  • Sudden fever
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Blood in urine

Lethal Effects on Major Body Organs

Severe cases of Leptospirosis might lead to organ damage. This can cause mild pain to some, while long term exposure without treatment can lead to a quick death.


If untreated, the infection may reach the lungs. A person will then experience quick and irregular heartbeat, difficulty in breathing, and coughing up blood.

Lung infection may cause the patient to die when the blood fills out the lungs. Therefore, at the earliest sight of blood, go the hospital quickly.


Severe cases of the illness also affect the brain. From the brain to the spinal cord, it can lead to meningitis. Along with this, it may also cause the swelling of the midbrain.

On the other hand, extreme cases of the infection have led to brain damage.

Brain infection can be detected through changes in the sensory and motor functions. This includes:

  • Speaking problems
  • Mood changes
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Confusion
  • Lack of energy

Heart, Kidneys, Liver

Untreated infection of the disease may also lead to heart, kidney, and liver failure. When this occurs, the infected person may experience pain. This includes:

  • Constant nosebleed
  • Muscle and chest pains
  • Skin and eyes turning yellow
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosing Leptospirosis

Detecting Leptospirosis is hard to do because so much of its symptoms resemble flu and other similar infections.

So, undergoing several clinical tests is needed if you suspect that you are infected.

Urine and Blood Test

First, the patient must first provide blood and urine samples for the tests. Afterwards, the laboratory then tests the sample for the presence of Leptospira. Yetthe test is only effective during the first week of symptom onset.

A blood test helps to spot the presence of antibodies. These are present if there is an infection.

However, this test is not 100% accurate as the antibody’s presence may be for another sickness.

Leptospirosis Treatment and Prevention

Leptospirosis is a preventable disease if done with extreme caution. While the number of cases increases, by good fortune, the fatality rate still remains low.  The death rate of the disease is only 5 to 15%.

This does not mean to say that we can be complacent. We need to take serious precaution especially during the rainy season and floods are everywhere.

There are several methods in treating the infection.

Treatment: What to do when you are infected


Not all cases of the infection need to be taken to the hospital. Medicine can still cure the infection. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics like penicillin.

You can also take Ibuprofen to cure muscle pains.

Hospital Treatment

If there are severe symptoms of infection, it is best to go to the doctor as soon as possible. This is important for those with problems in major body organs.

For serious infections, the patient may receive medicine through IV medication.

Prevention: How to avoid being infected

Basic Prevention Techniques

Leptospirosis is acquired by coming in contact with polluted elements. As such, you must actively try to avoid getting in touch with damaged animals and dirty water. To prevent infection, you can follow these ways:

  • Avoid polluted water and soil
  • Avoid touching and eating doubtful animals
  • Wear protective gear and clothes when swimming in fresh water.
  • Never try to touch flood water
  • Cover and clean all wounds

Anyone can avoid the disease with proper care and caution. Yet, the illness is still widespread due to a lack of knowledge.

Anyone can definitely help in lowering the rate of Leptospirosis infection. Without a doubt, you can raise consciousness by teaching your friends and family about the disease.


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