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Definition:

Leptospirosis is a rare, severe, and contagious bacterial infection.



Alternative Names:

Weil disease; Icterohemorrhagic fever; Swineherd's disease; Rice-field fever; Cane-cutter fever; Swamp fever; Mud fever; Hemorrhagic jaundice; Stuttgart disease; Canicola fever



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Leptospirosis is caused by exposure to several types of the Leptospira bacteria, which can be found in fresh water that has been contaminated by animal urine. It occurs in warmer climates.

Risk factors include:

  • Occupational exposure -- farmers, ranchers, slaughterhouse workers, trappers, veterinarians, loggers, sewer workers, rice field workers, and military personnel.
  • Recreational activities -- fresh water swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and trail biking in warm areas.
  • Household exposure -- pet dogs, domesticated livestock, rainwater catchment systems, and infected rodents.

Leptospirosis is rare in the continental U.S. Hawaii has the highest number of cases in the U.S.



Symptoms:

Symptoms can take 2 - 26 days (average 10 days) to develop, and may include:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Shaking chills

Less common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal lung sounds
  • Bone pain
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Enlarged lymph glands
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Joint aches
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Skin rash
  • Sore throat


Signs and tests:

The blood is tested for antibodies to the bacteria.

Other tests that may be done:



Treatment:

Medications to treat leptospirosis include:

  • Chloramphenicol
  • Erythromycin
  • Penicillins
  • Tetracyclines

Complicated cases will need supportive care.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

The outlook is generally good. However, a complicated case can be life-threatening if it is not treated promptly.



Complications:
  • Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction when penicillin is given
  • Meningitis
  • Severe bleeding


Calling your health care provider:

Contact your health care provider if you have any symptoms of, or risk factors for leptospirosis.



Prevention:

Avoid areas of stagnant water, especially in tropical climates. If you are exposed to a high risk area, taking doxycycline may decrease your risk of developing disease.



References:

Ko AI. Leptospirosis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 344.




Review Date: 8/3/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100