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Weil's Disease

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Weil’s Disease

Farms and construction sites are a hazardous area for infected rat urine and Weil’s Disease.  Workers most at risk of contracting Weil’s Disease include:

What are the symptoms of Weil’s disease?

Severe leptospirosis is also called Weil´s disease. Mild symptoms of leptospirosis resemble those of flu, and can include:

  • A high temperature,
  • Sore throat,
  • Sudden headaches and pain in the muscles
  • Feelings of nausea, sickness and diarrhoea.

These symptoms can develop from a minimum of two to a maximum of thirty days after bacterial infection. Fortunately, nine out of ten cases are only mild.

In a relatively low number of cases, mild infections can worsen into severe cases if the bacteria spread inside the body and reach vital organs such as the kidney, liver, heart, brain or (seriously) the lungs. All severe cases require urgent medical attention and hospital treatment with intravenous antibiotics to reduce the possibility of fatality, along with separate treatment for the organs affected.

The patient may suffer loss of appetite in both mild and severe cases. Seek immediate help if you notice a cough, skin rashes, stiff neck, a jaundiced (yellow) appearance, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, chest pain, decreased urination or unexplained changes in mental state (including seizures and fits).

Who suffers with Weil’s disease?

Weil’s disease and leptospirosis are rare within the UK (except after flooding), but more common in tropical countries or where quality water supplies and hygienic sanitation are not available.

Within Britain and Ireland, Weil’s disease and leptospirosis usually present a risk through animals or rivers. This includes farm and abattoir workers, vets and rodent control personnel. Sewage workers are also at risk, along with water sports enthusiasts. Riverbanks, farms and construction sites are a hazardous area for infected rat urine – so farm workers, vets and abattoir workers, workers in sewerage processing, commercial SCUBA divers (fresh water) and construction workers can all be at risk.

Wild and domestic animals including cattle, pigs and dogs can carry the bacteria asymptomatically for years, without external signs. However, infected urine on vegetation, soil or wood might well pass the disease on.

Usually bacterial infection takes place through the eyes, mucous membranes in the nose or mouth and through broken skin (abrasions or cuts). It can also occur from drinking contaminated water and, less commonly, direct contact with the blood of an infected animal.

How do workers contract Weil’s Disease?

Weil’s Disease is caused by a strain of bacteria known as leptospira, which is carried by animals and primarily passed to humans via their urine. Generally, wild animals are much more likely to carry leptospira, but in rare instances, domestic pets may also carry the infection.

While it is being carried by an animal, the leptospira bacteria lives inside the kidneys and is eventually passed out through urine. This means that soil or water can easily become contaminated and in such cases, the bacteria can live in either environment for several weeks.

Infection can occur any time contaminated water or soil comes into contact with the eyes, nose, mouth or open wounds on the skin. As a result, Weil’s Disease primarily affects those who work with animals, such as farmers or vets. People working with pigs and cows are especially at risk.

It can also be contracted from drinking contaminated water, or through coming into contact with the blood of an infected animal. This is a risk factor for those who work with dead animals, such as abattoir workers or butchers.

In addition to those who work with animals, a number of other occupations and activities could cause exposure to infected water. Those at risk include sewage workers and freshwater fisherman, as well as people who participate in outdoor water sports. For example, someone taking part in water sports may accidentally swallow contaminated water, or have the water come in contact with an open wound on their skin.

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