Leptospirosis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Leptospirosis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Leptospirosis is a water-borne bacterial infection that affects both humans and animals.

All You Need To Know About Leptospirosis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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It is transmitted through the urine of various animals such as dogs, rodents, and farm animals. Typically found in tropical regions, leptospirosis is a relatively uncommon disease. Humans can contract this infection through direct contact with the urine of an infected animal or by coming into contact with urine-contaminated environments. Upon entering the body, the bacteria swiftly propagates within 24 hours, leading to severe damage to vital organs. 

What is Leptospirosis?

It is an infectious disease caused by the Leptospira interrogans and is commonly transmitted through contact with contaminated water or soil, especially in areas with poor sanitation. The bacteria can enter the body through cuts or abrasions on the skin, mucous membranes, or by consuming food or water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Leptospirosis is caused by multiple species of bacteria belonging to the Leptospira genus. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as Weil's disease or meningitis, which have the potential to be life-threatening.

Causes and Transmission

Leptospira interrogans, bacteria, are the primary cause of Leptospirosis. It is carried by numerous animals in their kidneys who release the bacteria into the environment through their urine, contaminating soil and water sources. Human contact with the urine of infected animals can lead to the invasion of the bacteria through the skin via open wounds. Additionally, the bacteria can enter the body through the nose, mouth, and genitals. Although Leptospirosis is not highly contagious, it can be transmitted through sexual contact or breastfeeding. Once a person becomes infected, their urine may also contain the bacteria, contributing to further spread.

Leptospirosis is more commonly found in warm environments, and it is particularly prevalent in areas such as Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. In cases where the infection affects the liver, it is referred to as Weil's disease. Weil's disease is characterised by symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes, similar to jaundice. Heavy rainfall can exacerbate the spread of this bacterial infection, especially in regions prone to flooding.


Leptospirosis exhibits symptoms that may resemble those of various serious illnesses such as dengue, fever, and malaria. The onset of symptoms can occur within a range of 24 to 48 hours. Common symptoms associated with leptospirosis include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal pain

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

  • Joint pain

  • Sore throat

  • Diarrhoea

  • Rash

  • Red eyes

Leptospirosis typically progresses through three distinct stages. During the initial phase, symptoms that were previously mentioned can be observed. With appropriate treatment, many individuals recover during this stage and do not progress further. However, in some cases, phase two symptoms can emerge abruptly, even after the patient starts feeling better. The symptoms associated with phase two include:

  • Fever and stiffness of the neck

  • Inflammation of the nerves in the eyes

  • Meningitis

  • Jaundice

  • Renal failure

  • Cardiac arrhythmias

  • Septic shock

Following the second phase, a third phase begins approximately 2 to 4 weeks after the initial infection. During this stage, multiple organs can become compromised. Some patients may experience long-term complications such as kidney and lung failure. It is important to note that the fatality rate of leptospirosis is estimated to be around 1 to 5%.

Leptospirosis treatment:

The diagnosis of leptospirosis typically relies on the patient's medical history and physical examination. In cases of severe symptoms, medical tests are conducted for accurate diagnosis. It can be challenging to detect the early-stage symptoms of leptospirosis since the symptoms closely resemble those of the flu and other common infections.

Leptospirosis is typically treated using a combination of medications and procedures. Antibiotics are the primary medications used to treat the infection. Commonly prescribed antibiotics for leptospirosis include doxycycline, amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin-G, and ceftriaxone. The specific antibiotic prescribed will depend on factors such as the severity of your illness and your medical history.

In cases where the infection has affected the lungs and breathing becomes difficult, mechanical ventilation may be necessary. This involves the use of a machine to assist with breathing while you are sedated. The sedation ensures your comfort while connected to the ventilator.

If there is a risk of organ damage due to leptospirosis, a procedure called plasmapheresis (or plasma exchange) may be employed. During plasmapheresis, your blood is drawn through a tube attached to a vein. A machine then separates the plasma from your blood and replaces it with a plasma substitute. The treated blood is then returned to your body through another tube.


Leptospirosis is an uncommon but serious bacterial infection that can have severe consequences if not addressed promptly. Understanding the causes, transmission methods, and preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of contracting the disease. If you think you may have been exposed to leptospirosis, it is important to see a doctor right away. Remember, prevention is the key to maintaining a healthy and safe environment for both humans and animals alike.

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